Grand Prix’s future could hinge on city’s waterfront development plans

The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, assuming some cooperation from the coronavirus, is expected to roar along waterfront streets in the city for at least another couple of years. What happens down the road after that, however, is more of a blur.

While the city’s operating agreement with the Grand Prix continues through June 2023, the agreement also says the city must give Jim Michaelian, president/CEO of the Grand Prix Association, two years’ lead time to let him know whether it intends to  renew or extend the agreement through 2028, so June 1 of this year is, in effect, the date the city will have to determine if it plans to continue being the site of the race after 2023. And there are several factors that could influence the city’s decision concerning its most popular annual event.

The city’s waterfront area is booming with building, and the money-making potential of its last big vacant waterfront parcel, the 13-acre “elephant lot,” adjacent to the Long Beach Arena, which serves as the Grand Prix’s paddock area in the interior of the track circuit, is burning a hole in the city’s well-worn pockets. The city began a “visioning process” last summer, which includes a group of community leaders to help decide best uses for the space, and the continuation of the Grand Prix may or may not dovetail with that vision.

“The council has held a closed-door session to discuss the issue and we’re going to meet with Jim and the association to talk about different options and engage in negotiations,” said Long Beach’s Economic Development Director John Keisler, referring to Michaelian.

Keisler noted that what was discussed in the closed-door session is confidential, but said the city “is very optimistic that we’ll be able to come up with an agreement that would enable the race to go on,” while also noting the City Council has the sole authority to authorize the the agreement’s extension.

Another issue with the elephant lot is what the 2028 Olympics will require in terms of that land. Keisler said that hasn’t been made clear yet.

“I think the short answer is we don’t have a viable proposal for the lot’s development and we’re not proposing anything,” said Keisler.

COVID forced the cancelation of the Grand Prix in 2020, and the virus again postponed the race this year from April to the weekend of Sept. 24-26. The ever-optimistic Michaelian is hopeful, if not confident, that the race will get the green flag this fall, with the continued loosening of the state and local restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus.

“September is something we really want to do,” said Michaelian. “And with us going into the orange tier is really good news. I’m hopeful that next year we can revert back to our dates in April and get all of our fans and sponsors back.”

“We’ll have to see what the city’s intentions are,” said Michaelian. “There’s a lot of compatibility between the race and the city, and I think the city is happy with the event and its economic value and the exposure it brings. We’ll just have to see where we are after the council makes its decision.”

Keisler said that decision will likely be part of public discussion at some time in May.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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