Race On, a team led by two local investors that has partnered with racing champ Michael Andretti's sports marketing firm, also finalized sanctioning agreements with the IndyCar Series and American Le Mans Series for the Labor Day weekend festival, organizers said Wednesday.
J.P. Grant III, president of Grant Capital Management, and Greg O'Neill, vice president of BMW Construction, spoke of their plans for the race at a news conference at the city-owned Hilton Baltimore hotel, hours after the city's spending board approved the contract with Race On.
"I'm honored to take on this important opportunity in the city we both love," Grant said. "Greg and I believe in the city. We've believed in the city for a long time."
Grant said his company would donate $20,000 to the city to cover half the cost of replanting dozens of trees that had been removed by the organizers of last year's race. That group failed to fulfill its agreement with the city to restore trees removed to enhance views of the street race.
The five-member Board of Estimates awarded the Grand Prix contract to Race On at its weekly meeting. This marks the third time the city has awarded a contract to organize the race.
The organizer of last year's inaugural event, Baltimore Racing Development, collapsed financially in the months following the race, leaving millions in unpaid debts. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration then chose Downforce Racing in February to take over, but that company quickly fell apart.
Rawlings-Blake, whose office negotiated the latest deal, and two aides who sit on the board, voted in favor of the contract, as they had voted on the two previous contracts.
In brief remarks after the meeting, Rawlings-Blake promoted the race's ability to stimulate the city's economy and generate positive press — talking points that she had hewed to when announcing the two previous deals.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young voted against the deal, as he did when the board awarded the Grand Prix contract to Downforce Racing. Young has said he believes the cash-strapped city should focus its attentions on programs for young people, not auto races.
City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who had voted against the city's previous Grand Prix contract in February, backed the latest agreement, citing her confidence in Grant. "I believe this will be a success because this man has a good reputation," she said. "He is a man of high moral character."
Grant's Columbia-based company, Grant Capital Management, has been awarded millions of dollars of city contracts over the past 12 years. O'Neill, a former racecar driver, is vice president of BMW Construction of Curtis Bay, which has received millions of dollars in federal defense contracts.
Grant said that it was Andretti who had suggested that he and O'Neill partner to put together the race. Both men contacted Andretti separately and both previously expressed interest in organizing the event before city officials gave the contract to Downforce.
Kevin Healy, Andretti Sports Marketing's managing director, said that tickets for the race are slated to go on sale May 28. The group plans to make an announcement about sponsorship deals in the coming weeks, he said.
Healy also is supervising preparations for an IndyCar race in Milwaukee that is scheduled for Father's Day weekend.