Belle Isle is a construction zone nearly 6 weeks ahead of Grand Prix

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Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019. - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019.

The smell of exhaust, hundreds of concrete barriers, the rumble of dozens of 18-wheelers, orange construction barrels, road closures, grandstands, miles of fencing — spring has returned to Belle Isle.

The annual setup for the controversial Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix started today, nearly six weeks ahead of the race. The occupation of the island by billionaire race organizer Roger Penske and his team will last until the end of June. The remediation process will take months longer, and the race is also causing permanent damage to the grass on Belle Isle, which is a state park.

Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019. - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019.

Between now and July, parkgoers will likely endure restricted access to many of the park's most popular areas and amenities; long traffic jams caused by road closures that will make it difficult to access the island during sunny spring days; and a vast construction zone on an island that was intended to be a public park, not a private raceway. On the most popular days at the park this spring, Belle Isle may even shut down due to overcrowding caused by the race construction, as it did last year.

As we've previously noted, the set up and breakdown of the Belle Isle Grand Prix is among the longest of any Formula One or IndyCar street race in the world. We checked with every other street race, and found that race organizers like those in Toronto manage to get their race up and down in several weeks, and do so with no road closures except on race weekend.

Penske officials have claimed that set up and breakdown takes longer in Detroit for safety reasons, but provided no evidence to support that its race is any safer than those held by more efficient race organizers.

Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019. - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019.

Race officials have claimed that there's a $58 million economic impact, but we spoke with several economists who pointed out why that's a wild exaggeration.

Race organizers have also claimed that they've made millions of dollars worth of improvements to the island. But some parkgoers don't see widened roads, a 100,000-square-foot-concrete paddock, wider sidewalks, and other changes that have desecrated the green space as "improvements."

Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019. - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019.

The Grand Prix is increasingly controversial, with more and more people demanding that the race be moved off of Belle Isle. That culminated last August with a contentious public comment session during the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' negotiation with Penske on a new contract. The state and Penske ultimately agreed to at least three more years of the race on the island. Belle Isle Concern, a group opposed to the race being run on Belle Isle, holds protests each year.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to a billionaire race mogul taking over a public park and turning into his private raceway.

Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019. - TOM PERKINS
  • Tom Perkins
  • Belle Isle on Monday, April 22, 2019.

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