Keith Crain on Belle Isle Race: 'Let's Not Ruin it for the Sake of a Few Protesters'

May 28, 2018, 10:56 AM by  Alan Stamm

The chairman and owner of Crain Communications pours fuel on the debate over Belle Isle as a yearly auto racing site.

Keith Crain, an Automotive Hall of Fame member who publishes Automotive News and Autoweek, likes using the park for vroom, vroom early each June. (Shocking, right?)

He describes next weekend's televised Detroit Grand Prix as "something that has offered real benefits to the community" and calls opponents "a handful of dissidents."

Critics, who protested for two hours Saturday afternoon at the park's Jefferson Avenue entrance, cite concerns about noise, emissions and disruption from lengthy track preparations and removal. They challenge the event now because its five-year contract with the state Department of Natural Resources ends after next Sunday's final 2018 laps.

The 2016 IndyCar race on Belle Isle.
(Photo by Detroit Grand Prix)

Demonstrations in April and this weekend by a group called Belle Isle Concern, plus recent statements in Deadline Detroit and elsewhere by member Michael Betzold, spur the 77-year-old publication group executive to push back. His Crain's Detroit Business column this week is headlined "A very shortsighted view:" 

Belle Isle has seen millions of dollars in improvements and repairs that never could have been done by the state. Whether it is the famous fountain or the Casino, for the use of this park for a few days a year, Detroit Grand Prix has spent a huge amount of money to upgrade the island.

And the event brings millions of dollars into our economy every year. Millions that otherwise would never be spent in Detroit — another influx of money to help our community grow and prosper. . . .

And yet, a handful of dissidents would like to see this event canceled so that they can use that part of the island for the few days. . . . I am sure there are plenty of activities that these folks could protest, but let's please let anything that brings dollars into our community alone. . . .

Let's not ruin it for the sake of a few protesters.

Seven of "these folks" respond at the publication's Facebook page, where many others post supportive comments :

  • It's not just a few days that we losse access to our best park. It's the better part of late May also. They block the streets for setup for a prolonged period. -- James Sobolewski
  • A downtown Grand Prix would be 25 times the PR story for the city. -- Randy Pitler, Huntington Woods
  • Having the PGA in town for one event will draw far more viewers than a racing circuit that struggles for viewership. -- Sunny Sandhu
  • It is a public park. Not private race track. Period. -- Peter J. Callert, Utica
  • The Grand Prix has refused to be transparent about the improvements they allegedly make to the island. (FOIA requests denied, etc.) However, anybody who has been to Belle Isle will surely notice newly poured acres and acres of concrete surrounding the Casino where once there were beautiful fields. Yuck. Surely that represents the bulk of the money the Grand Prix brings to Belle Isle. -- Ann Markie, Ann Arbor
  • Too many people use the island now for this to keep happening in the park. They need to find a new venue. -- Jeffrey Steibel
  • It takes up the island from April-June. Why can’t they be as efficient with set-up and take-down as they were when it was downtown. If it was two weeks start to finish, it wouldn’t be such a issue. But they literally have the island for most of the summer and it's unnecessary. -- Tera Holcomb, Detroit

Belle Isle Concern supporters comment elsewhere on Facebook:

  • A handful of dissidents? Is he being paid off by Penske? -- Anna Krol
  • Just another rich white guy who uses his privilege and is clueless about how ignorant and offensive he truly is. -- Debbie Parker
  • I wonder how often Mr. Crain goes to the island to just enjoy it. How often do the race supporters go to the island? Is it just for the race or do they frequent it to enjoy it? Lots of folks don't understand how inconveniencing the prep and race are for those of us who really enjoy the island on a regular basis. -- Andrea Daniel
  • A very apt title ["A very shortsighted view"] for Mr. Crain's own position on the future of Belle Isle. -- Sandra Novacek
  • Amazing that the owner of a local media giant can so blithely distort the numbers— of the Prix opponents, of the money generated, etc. But the biggest distortion is "use of the park a few days a year." Keith Crain obviously never goes to Belle Isle. -- Michael Betzold 

The global headquarters of Crain's, a 102-year-old company founded by the chairman's father, Gustavus Dedman (G.D.) Crain Jr., is on Gratiot Avenue at the edge of downtown -- 2.8 miles west of Belle Isle.

In his column, Crain speculates that the firm owned by race organizer Roger Penske breaks even or perhaps loses money from the event. "Just like the Super Bowl, this is another way they invest in their hometown," he suggests, acknowledging: "I have no way of knowing" whether its Grand Prix role is profitable for Penske Corp.

Penske worked with the Downtown Detroit Partnership to bring the IndyCar Series back to Belle Isle in 2007 after a six-year gap.

Related coverage recently:

Read more:  Crain's Detroit Business

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