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Baltimore Grand Prix: Downtown businesses rev up for racing event weekend
Baltimore GP course
Managers at the Pratt Street Alehouse tend to keep their expectations low for Labor Day weekend, typically a sleepy affair in the city.

But not this year.

Because the pub's outdoor dining patio sits just a few feet from Pratt Street, where open-wheeled racecars will speed past on their way around a 2-mile circuit in the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix, managers are preparing for a full house — the kind of numbers generated by Opening Day for the Orioles or a Ravens-Steelers football game. We’re going to make as many opportunities for [customers] to be served as we can," said Greg Keating, general manager of the Alehouse. "Our goal is we get full and we stay full."

While downtown business managers say they have no way to gauge just how big a piece of Grand Prix business they can expect, many are gearing up for one of the busiest Labor Day weekends in memory, beefing up staffing, expanding hours, and offering race-day specials and promotions.

"If you have a three-day ticket and are from out of town, you will also go shopping, go to restaurants and to other attractions, before the race and during the races," said Tom Noonan, president and chief executive of the city's convention and tourism bureau.

"I really feel like it will take one of our weaker tourism weekends and turn it into the best tourism weekend of the summer," he said.

At the Hotel Monaco on North Charles Street, valet attendants dressed in pit-crew T-shirts will greet guests dropping off their cars. Managers at the 202-room hotel say they have only about 25 rooms left for the weekend. The hotel is promoting those rooms with a $329-per-night "Pit Crew" package that includes sports caps, checkered flags, water bottles and keepsake Matchbox cars — along with a deluxe room.

In Little Italy, restaurateurs plan to close off most of South High Street to traffic on Friday and Saturday evenings and offer outdoor dining in the first "Race to Little Italy" festival.

And the Camden Pub on West Pratt Street is vying to become race-fan headquarters with specials such as $3 cans of Budweiser and Bud Light, the race's "official" beer, and $8.95 plates of pit ham, pit beef and pit turkey.

Pat Liberto, owner of Camden Pub, said he didn't know what to expect from the first running of the race.

"We know what they tell us, that it will bring in 100,000 people to the city," Liberto said. "Hopefully, it will mean a lot of cash. I'm expecting it to be an equivalent of three Ravens games. We're two blocks from part of the track, so I'm expecting to get my small piece of it."

While Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has championed the three-day event, not everyone has embraced it. Critics — including some of the mayor's challengers in next month's Democratic primary — have questioned the five-year commitment to an event that requires the city to spend $7.75 million to prepare the roads for an IndyCar race.

Much of that money comes from federal aid reserved for road projects. Other race infrastructure — grandstands and barriers — is being paid for by race organizers.

Critics also have complained about traffic tie-ups and tree removal for a sport that has met with mixed success in other cities.

Race organizers and city officials say the Baltimore Grand Prix should attract 110,000 to 120,000 fans over three days and generate $70 million in economic impact. So far, organizers say, at least 73,000 of 90,000 grandstand seats and 74 of 80 available grandstand suites have been sold.

"We're going to exceed our [attendance] target, which is 100,000," Jay Davidson, the president and chief executive of Baltimore Racing Development, said Monday.

He said those visitors should benefit downtown businesses: "That's what seems to happen at other venues, and there's no reason to believe it won't happen here as well."

At Pratt Street Alehouse, which sits in view of the start/finish line, managers plan to open a little-used building next door and offer seating at three outdoor patios.

"This will be a coveted space to be," said Keating, the general manager. He is planning extras such as outdoor grills, a Tiki bar and outdoor beer tubs. Baltimore Sun

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