Good for Boston for stopping Boston IndyCar crash

If you read through our rumors, predicted last September when it was announced that the government would not partner with the race promoter by providing essential city services and street repaving for the Boston GP that the race would never happen. It never happened, we saw it but IndyCar had their head buried in the sand and couldn't, so they got egg on their face once again.

Boston is a city where half-baked ideas in search of open public wallets go to die.

Good for Boston.

Shed no tears over IndyCar’s decision to pull the plug on a “Grand Prix of Boston" race that was scheduled to take place over Labor Day weekend. The proposal’s unraveling says little about the willingness of Bostonians to embrace change and fun. It says everything about the need for skilled promoters who know how to organize, market, and underwrite such a venture.

IndyCar confronted some NIMBY-ism and lots of government regulation designed to protect public safety and welfare. But the big problem was money.

The initial memorandum of understanding, signed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, shifted chunks of race cost to the city and state. Since some of the land needed for the event belonged to assorted state entities, Governor Charlie Baker got involved. Last December, four state agencies and Boston signed a letter of intent stating that Grand Prix Boston was “solely responsible for all costs and expenses."

With that, it became harder to make the numbers work. Attendance was based on optimistic projections that were not backed up by early ticket sales. Internal turmoil also undercut IndyCar’s marketing ability; one CEO was jettisoned to be replaced by another.

Even a pro-racing website said it was “more of a black eye for IndyCar" than for Boston.

“At the end of the day, this was ‘show me the money,’ and they couldn’t show us the money," said Larry Moulter, the former head of Boston Garden/Fleet Center and now executive-in-residence at the Center for Collaborative Leadership at the University of Massachusetts Boston. According to Moulter, who is familiar with negotiations between IndyCar, the city, and state, promoters of this for-profit private venture never provided a detailed financial plan showing sponsorships and cash flow.

Casting this as another illustration of Boston’s “just say no" mentality buys into mythology that no longer defines Boston, said Moulter. Promoters just didn’t have their act together.

It’s true that once Walsh signed onto the Labor Day race proposal, not everyone thought it was a grand idea. There was resistance from Massport, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, and some neighbors. But city and state officials were trying to work out the kinks, which included overlapping jurisdictions and multiple regulatory issues.

“The demise of IndyCar Boston was a result of poor planning and poor execution of an event that never really made much sense," said Chris Dempsey, who cochaired the group that galvanized opposition to a Boston 2024 Olympics. Greater Boston, he said, “continues to embrace big events like the Marathon, the Head of the Charles, the US Open [in Brookline in 2022], 81 Red Sox games, 41 Celtics games, 41 Bruins games, and World Series/Stanley Cup/NBA Championship games, when we’re lucky. These events help make Boston a great place to live and will continue to do so after IndyCar Boston has faded from memory."

Boston loves big, crowd-pleasing events like July 4 on the Esplanade. But certain grand proposals do raise legitimate questions about priorities, cost, and vision. There’s no crime in asking them. The South Boston waterfront is prospering without the football stadium Robert Kraft wanted to build. And today, the area would have an entirely different feel if Kraft had gotten his way. The bid for Boston 2024 was launched without adequate public buy-in, with many millions in public money at stake. Skeptics rightly challenged the merits of the quest.

It’s up to the Walsh administration to carefully vet promoters who come into town with big ideas that become less attractive with time and scrutiny. IndyCar was heading for a crash. Good for Boston for turning off the engine before it was too late. Joan Vennochi/Boston Globe

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