Managing Detroit Grand Prix’s return to downtown will provide trial run for 2024 NFL Draft

Detroit News

Detroit — As Detroit Grand Prix organizers put the finishing touches on preparations for the return of auto racing to the downtown streets, Mayor Mike Duggan is eager to see what can be applied for upcoming events, namely next year’s NFL Draft.

With the backdrop of the Renaissance Center and standing in the middle of what will be a two-sided pit lane for the three-day Detroit Grand Prix that begins June 2, one of several signs featuring “Speed Limit 200” was unveiled Thursday. They will be sprinkled throughout the grounds and are sure to be a selfie staple.

The Grand Prix was last held in downtown Detroit in 1991 and then moved to Belle Isle. Bud Denker, president of Penske Corporation and DGP chairman, and Grand Prix president Michael Montri helped design a 1.7-mile, nine-turn circuit, and while the racing will be the focal point, Duggan will be studying how everything flows logistically on race weekend.

“You look at the concert lineup between Comerica Park, Ford Field, Little Caesars Arena, who we have coming in,” Duggan said. “There’s no Palace anymore. Literally, every concert comes downtown and the number of people who are calling me about acts I’ve never heard of, ‘Can somebody help me get tickets?’ I’ve got people calling saying we want to go to the Grand Prix, and all of this is leading up to the NFL Draft next year, which we’re either going to execute or not. I do expect us to execute as well as anybody has done as long as the weather holds off and it doesn’t rain that week.”

Duggan said he and NFL Draft organizers have already learned plenty from the Grand Prix about traffic issues and control. A number of downtown streets and intersections already are closed for the upcoming race.

“I couldn’t get down to work two days ago coming down Jefferson,” Duggan said. “I called the (Detroit police) chief, I said, ‘Guys, it’s gonna be another two weeks. We have to manage the traffic.’ Well, the city of Detroit doesn’t have a lot of expertise in managing traffic jams. Those are good problems to have.”

He said to ask him June 5, the day after the Grand Prix weekend, what his takeaways are going into the planning of the NFL Draft, a three-day event beginning April 25, 2024 in Campus Martius Park.

“We’re gonna learn a lot,” he said. “In terms of managing of crowds, you’re gonna see the metal detectors on the perimeters, which of course we did last year extremely successfully for the fireworks. Those are the kinds of things we’re getting really good at.

“For the last four weeks, we’ve run the entire (Detroit) Riverwalk, you’ve had to go through the weapons detector to get to the Riverwalk. It’s been no issue. Nobody’s complained. If you’ve got your CCW (carrying a concealed weapon) permit, you show it. If you don’t, you have the good sense to turn around and not get arrested. It’s created a great feeling of security. Now we’ve placed them in different places downtown, we’ll control the perimeter here, and we’ll learn.”

What organizers of outdoor events can never control is the weather. In terms of hosting the draft next April, Duggan said his team was trying to figure out a way to put a tarp across certain sections of Woodward to protect fans from the elements.

“We looked at it, but it doesn’t look like we can do it,” Duggan said. “We wanted to see if there were stretches where we potentially could, because I’m told they had rain in Cleveland (during the NFL Draft) and it totally depressed the whole event.”

Having any outdoor event in a downtown setting creates disturbances to businesses, traffic and parking, among other things, and that’s why observing the Grand Prix is critical for future planning.

“We’re going to drop (the NFL Draft) in the heart of downtown, and that has enormous challenges,” Duggan said. “You saw in Kansas City (last month for the draft), you could buy your $12 beer from the vendor on-site, but no surrounding Kansas City businesses benefited. We’re gonna drop this in the heart of our business district.

“I want to be judged when the event’s over and not ahead of time. We need to get through this (Grand Prix) weekend and prove we can do this smoothly. On June 5 we will know a lot more about managing events downtown than we know today.”

Twitter: @chengelis

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