Unlike other events that have been held in Baltimore, the Grand Prix is a more sprawling festival, with a 2-mile racecourse that starts at the Convention Center on Pratt street, takes a hairpin loop on Light Street and heads to and around Camden Yards before returning to Pratt.
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"We don't know what to expect since this is the inaugural year," said Ryan Hada, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association. "It'll be interesting to see if it works for the city and the residents. I'm certainly not anti. I think it's an exciting event for people, but we'll have to see the benefits and the costs."
While weekday commuters have had to navigate around the Grand Prix setup, now weekend routines are facing disruption. Some churches will be offering fewer services and others are expecting more sparsely populated pews as parishioners decide not to fight the traffic.
That other Sunday ritual, the downtown farmers' market under the Jones Falls Expressway, will go on, though several vendors aren't sure what to expect.
"It's just too unpredictable for me," said Barbie Maniscalco, who normally sells bread and pastries from Uptown Bakers at the market but plans to skip Sunday. "I have to draw the line somewhere."
Usually, she gets up at 4 in the morning to drive from her home in Anne Arundel County to pick up the baked goods from Uptown's facility in Hyattsville so that she can start setting up around 6:30 a.m. under the expressway. Doing all that when she isn't sure if customers will take the trouble to get to the market, and whether she'd be able to make her way home, just seemed too risky, Maniscalco said.
"But who knows, I could be missing the boat," she added, noting that there might be a lot of extra foot traffic to the market from out-of-towners.
Those who have benefited from the city's decision to host the race say it provides a needed shot in the arm during the economic downturn.
"The industry has been totally decimated by the recession," said Pierce Flanigan, whose Baltimore-based company, P. Flanigan, was awarded a $4.8 million construction contract for the race. "There is no question it put people to work."
Restaurateur and caterer Eddie Dopkin agreed that "the race absolutely is bringing in dollars that wouldn't have been here" on what is traditionally a slow weekend. His Classic Caterers, which will feed racegoers in party tents at the Inner Harbor and near the Baltimore Convention Center, will bring in about 25 extra workers for the weekend.
Promoters and city officials are hoping for a lively and glitch-free weekend, with traffic among the main concerns.
That was Schmoke's major anxiety during the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, one of the higher-profile events during his administration. For all of its subsequent success, the stadium initially came with its own risks, he said. Launched by Schaefer but opened under Schmoke, the park's location downtown was groundbreaking at a time when most stadiums were in the suburbs.
"I could see the headlines," Schmoke recalled, "'Schaefer's Stadium, Schmoke's Traffic Jam.'"
Now it is Rawlings-Blake who has to worry about pulling off a major event under great scrutiny.
"Let's say the race is panned in the international sports community," Schmoke said. "But it would have to be something pretty bad — if all the cars had to drive at 50 miles per hour. It would make the city a laughingstock."
Matthew Crenson, professor emeritus of political science at the Johns Hopkins University, agreed that it would take a major disaster, "an apocalypse," for Rawlings-Blake to be seriously harmed by her support of the race. And even then, he said, any lost votes likely would be split among her many challengers.
Her opponents have pounced on the race as a possible wedge issue. In recent candidate forums, they have cast aspersions on the event and, by extension, on the mayor who has been pushing for it.
"I don't believe it's going to bring in all the money they say it's going to bring in," Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. said at a candidates forum last week, predicting "a failure" for the event. "I don't believe all the hotels are full."
Former City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III said he "would have done more due diligence" than Rawlings-Blake did before signing a five-year commitment to the race. State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh said the road improvement funds should have been spent elsewhere in the city. And Otis F. Rolley slammed the event as a poor substitute for an economic development plan.
"We have to be smart about what we invest our resources in," the former Baltimore planning director said.
Staging a successful Grand Prix could help pad Baltimore's resume as a host city for other major events, according to Dan Knise, who headed the unsuccessful Baltimore-Washington bid for the 2012 Olympics.
"You would have loved to have had a track record of running a major event," like the Grand Prix, said Knise, now president and CEO of Ames & Gough, an insurance brokerage and consulting firm. "Obviously, it helps to have more experience. It tends to build on itself."
Aris Melisseratos, a former Maryland secretary of economic development, sees the Grand Prix as "completing our card" and adding to the area's other sporting and cultural events.
"You need these kinds of things that the city can rally people around," he said.
"Obviously there are risks," Melisseratos said. "But it was the right risk to assume. This could be another Preakness."