The head of the Massachusetts Port Authority said the agency would not stand in the way of an IndyCar race in the Seaport District next Labor Day weekend, as long as Massport does not have to help pay for the event.
“It’s a complicated project, but [Boston] does the Marathon and everything works out great,” Massport chief executive Thomas Glynn said in an interview. “We are capable of doing big things as a community.”
Race organizers on Thursday denied published reports that they had asked for Massport to foot part of the bill, and said they do not need the agency’s money to make necessary improvements to Massport roads.
The Grand Prix of Boston in May signed a 29-page contract with Mayor Martin J. Walsh to hold the race in 2016, and annually for up to four years after that.
The contract requires the city to make necessary improvements to city streets within the race circuit, which would run along an 11-turn, 2.2-mile temporary course around the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. But Massport also owns roads on the proposed racecourse that need to be modified for the course to accommodate cars that can go 180 miles per hour. These include the Massport Haul Road and potentially parts of Congress Street, Glynn said.
Glynn told the Boston Herald this week that race organizers had approached Massport with a list of road improvements needed for the race, and asked whether Massport would finance them.
“It was certainly in the discussions that they articulated they needed these things done so they had a smooth racetrack and were hoping it was something we might be able to cover,” Glynn told the Globe Thursday.
He estimated the construction would cost $500,000 each year of the race.
The work includes altering intersections, removing medians and lampposts, covering storm drains and adding a thin layer of asphalt — and then putting everything back after the race, he said.
Race organizers insisted Thursday they are not asking Massport for money to make the improvements.
“We’re not asking for money for that infrastructure; we’re not asking for any money,” said Kate Norton, a spokeswoman for Grand Prix of Boston and a former aide to Walsh.
Responded Glynn: “It’s good news that they and we are in agreement that this is not something they are asking us to pay for.”
Without the burden of paying for the improvements, Glynn said he had no issue with the work being done. “I think everybody thinks this is a priority of the city and so we try to lean in and make it happen,” he said.
Mark Perrone, chief executive of Grand Prix of Boston, characterized the discussions with the agency as “very preliminary.”
“We just laid out some of the modifications that needed to be made. And to be quite honest, those aren’t final,” he said.
If Massport is not paying, who will?
“We’re a private concern and any participation that we have will be funded by our group, by the Grand Prix of Boston,” he said. “We’re not counting on anybody.”
He said his group “just wants to move forward and sit at the table again [with state agencies] and then get specific, to massage this into a win-win for everybody.”
Walsh on Thursday defended plans to hold the race, despite the potential for city expense, and opposition from some residents near the proposed racecourse.
Residents of a condominium building that overlooks the course have complained, saying the city negotiated the contract without proper public review. They say they are worried about neighborhood disruptions, parking, safety, and noise.
“Is there going to be some costs for different city agencies? Possibly yes,” Walsh said. “But the revenue we’re going to make that weekend on sales tax, meals tax, hotel tax, on tourism — they far outweigh any [costs]. It’s a tremendous boost.”
Public spending for sporting events is still a sensitive subject in Boston, just two months after the city’s Olympic bid collapsed because of public opposition driven primarily by worries about costs to taxpayers.
Walsh rejected any comparison with the Olympics, saying the city is not guaranteeing to cover potential costs overruns.
“I think our city in some ways does have a reputation that it’s difficult in some cases to do events here,” Walsh said. “We’re trying to do some things for the promotion of our city.”Jon Chesto of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Mark Arsenault can be reached at Mark.Arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark