Belle Isle GP Organizers pay $5.5 million

The race cars speeding around Belle Isle this weekend will leave more than burned rubber at the park, as organizers rev up millions of dollars in improvements for the city's neglected cultural gem.

Grand Prix organizers have poured more than $5.5 million into the massive city park since last year's race — $1.5 million more than the city of Detroit budgets to run Belle Isle for the entire year.

"We want our mark to be left the other 51 weeks of the year and we want to help the city in these tough economic times," said Roger Penske. Besides his businesses in autos, trucking and racing, Penske is chairman of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, which organizes and promotes The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix through a subsidiary.

The money comes even though the Labor Day weekend race lost $1.5 million in its initial run last year and hopes to break even this year, notes Bud Denker, senior vice president of Penske Corp., and the man who oversees operations at the Grand Prix. "That's ingrained in our mission — a world-class event in a world-class venue," Denker said.

The improvements contributed by the Grand Prix organizers mean most of the park's winding roads are now smooth, thanks to repaving and patching, but the bulk of the fix-up efforts aren't related to the race.

Race organizers have paid to clean the elaborate marble Scott Fountain and restore its detailed carvings. After thieves stole the copper pipes earlier this year, Grand Prix organizers replaced the pipes and installed security cameras that connect directly to the park's police substation.

Race organizers also thoroughly cleaned and renovated Belle Isle's casino building, built new playgrounds and added two pedestrian bridges.

"The kind of detail and attention that Mr. Penske and the Grand Prix bring is very much appreciated," said Alicia Minter, the city's deputy director for the recreation department, which oversees Belle Isle. Minter and others credit the Grand Prix for reviving city plans that call for putting another $200 million of repairs into Belle Isle.

"It's provides energy and proof that we can bring Belle Isle back to its glory," said Sarah Earley, president of the Belle Isle Women's Committee, which is joining with Friends of Belle Isle to form the Belle Isle Conservancy. The two private fundraising groups will be working to raise $27 million dollars through foundation grants and private donors. "Success leads to more success and we continue to get more support for our efforts because of the Grand Prix," Earley said. Detroit News

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