State: Two-thirds of Detroiters support Grand Prix at Belle Isle

Grand Prix setup at Belle Isle. Photo by Michael Betzold.
Grand Prix setup at Belle Isle. Photo by Michael Betzold.

Two-thirds of Detroit residents surveyed by a consulting firm hired by the DNR last year said the Grand Prix is “definitely appropriate” or “somewhat appropriate” for Belle Isle.

In the survey, 224 Detroiters were among 700 Michigan residents who were asked about their opinions of the island. The survey results will be presented to the state’s Natural Resources Commission meeting in Gaylord on Thursday.

DNR chief Ron Olson said the “statistically significant” survey results provide a basis for continuing the race. “When you have two-thirds that think it’s OK, that’s worth noting,” Olson said.

When asked if any result might prompt a change in policy, he said if the favorable rating “fell below 50 percent” there might be cause for concern.

Asked if there were any other state parks where annual events occurred that were opposed by one-third of nearby residents, Olson speculated whether there might be people opposed to the Coast Guard Festival at Grand Haven State Park, the annual “Quake on the Lake” hydroplane races at Pontiac Lake State Recreation Area, and to the designated off-road vehicle area at Silver Lake State Park. But he admitted he doesn’t know because no surveys have ever been done.

“We do pay attention to anxieties and concerns if we are aware of them,” he said.

As for any problems with the Grand Prix, he exclaimed, “It’s not our race, for God’s sake! We inherited it!”

The state took over the island from the city of Detroit in February 2014. It assumed an existing contract the city held with the race that runs through 2018. The state reportedly can extend that contract at any time without public input.
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Monday, a security guard was stopping cars, bikes, and pedestrians from entering the west side of Belle Isle. He said, “The state has given us two weeks” to dismantle the bleachers, barricades, viewing stands, and other race structures.

By eight a.m. Monday, the guard said he’d let more than 100 construction personnel past his barricades. Yet dismantling work did not appear to be occurring at a fever pitch. In the parking lot opposite the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, generators were still running towers of floodlights during broad daylight.

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Michael Betzold

Michael Betzold is a former Free Press reporter and longtime area freelance journalist. He wrote Queen of Diamonds, a history of Tiger Stadium. He lives on Detroit’s east side.

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