Walsh repeats an Olympic mistake

A lone car led the field during the Grand Prix of Baltimore in 2013.
Getty Images/file
A lone car led the field during the Grand Prix of Baltimore in 2013.

Fun, fun, fun.

That seems to be Boston’s new motto. But, to live up to it, do we really need a high speed, IndyCar race clogging up the Seaport with crowds and exhaust fumes?

As Boston booms, it’s loosening up its stodgy Grande Dame attitude about city life.


The Lawn on D Street? Awesome. Artificial turf and plastic chairs on City Hall Plaza? All good.

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But race cars rocketing around the waterfront at 180 mph, revving up engines to noise levels as high as 140 decibels?

It’s certainly more Indianapolis than Athens of America, if that’s the preferred image of Boston 2.0. But this makeover is a mess.

Last May, Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Grand Prix of Boston for up to five Labor Day races in the Seaport area. It all happened without any public hearings or information revealed about resident inconvenience or taxpayer investment — just like Boston’s ill-fated effort to host an Olympics, albeit on a smaller scale.

The first race, scheduled for next Sept. 2-4, would loop around a 2.2 mile circuit, covering land that is mostly owned by Massport and the city of Boston. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and MassDot also hold some property rights along the route.


The city’s contract is only valid for the specific route discussed with Grand Prix. Given the parties involved, that could be a problem.

A race like this requires more setup than a pub crawl. Pre-race preparation involves the installation of 6,000-pound road barriers, 12-foot high metal fences, and the dismantling of entire median strips. Sewer caps must be welded down and an inch of asphalt poured to provide a smooth, continuous surface.

Who pays? Ticket sales and sponsorships — LogMeIn just signed on as the presenting sponsor — are supposed to cover costs.

They’d better, because one key landowner says his agency wants no part of them.

Massport head Tom Glynn told me he’s willing to work on the logistical challenges, but “we don’t think that Massport public money should be used to subsidize a for-profit private venture.”


Fred Peterson, acting head of the convention center authority, which controls some of the land needed for the race, told the Boston Herald his agency is “not anywhere close” to approving the event. A major concern, he said, is that the course, as currently drawn, goes over a hazardous waste area, and any work that disturbs the toxic waste cap would need EPA approval.

A group of South Boston condo owners, meanwhile, sent a 14-page letter to Walsh and race organizers, challenging the legality of the city’s agreement with Grand Prix of Boston, blasting the city’s lack of transparency and raising questions about noise, traffic, and public safety.

“The race has been developed in secret, with no public process and without consideration of its impacts,” reads the letter from lawyer David E. Lurie, who represents the Seaport Lofts Condominium Association, located at 437 D St.

Lurie told me the condo association has yet to receive any response from the city, “and the city hasn’t produced a single public record about the race.” According to the letter sent to Walsh, Boston “will receive no payment of any fees from the developer for this exclusive use of public property.”

The head of Grand Prix of Boston did send a letter to the condo association, which according to Politico Massachusetts, “outlines mitigation to residents and contests misconceptions regarding noise, the use of public funds, and safety.”

There’s a lot more explaining to do. The City of Baltimore signed a similar, multiyear deal, but it was canceled after two years and arguments over unpaid debt.

The Boston race was supposed to showcase this city’s ability to host a major sporting event. Boston 2024 is dead, but the Grand Prix lives on — for now.

It brings back bad memories. Once again, Walsh promoted a plan which causes major disruption without neighborhood buy-in. And this particular neighborhood includes not only condo residents, but big institutional players like Fidelity and John Hancock. If Walsh believed he could sign on to the event and then get state officials to back it — just like the Olympics — that also doesn’t seem to be working. Just like the Olympics.

Getting to a hip, new Boston shouldn’t raise the same, old questions about cost versus benefits, but it does. Sorry to be a buzzkill.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.