Downtown’s growth key to drawing auto race to Miami

Tim Mayer
Tim Mayer

A new auto racing series wants to hold one of its annual events in downtown Miami, where last month’s injury and arrest-filled Ultra Music Festival has city politicians fuming, The Real Deal has learned.

Downtown’s recent growth, fueled largely by residential development, is a pivotal reason for London-based motorsports company Formula E Holdings’ interest in the area. But large-scale events that close off downtown streets are a sore subject in the city at the moment. Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff are among those calling for Ultra to leave downtown, after more than 55 arrests were made and a security guard was trampled.

Race organizers say their event does not pose the same risks as the two-day music festival and would be much smaller in scale. “The race track we’re planning is designed to minimize the impact to the residents and businesses in downtown,” Andretti Sports Marketing executive director Tim Mayer told TRD.

The race, scheduled for March 2015, is part of the inaugural season of the Formula E Championship, the world’s first electric racing series. It kicks off on Sept. 13 in Beijing. Other stops include London, Berlin and several South American cities.

Los Angeles and Miami are the only U.S. cities on the tour.

“Every race is being held in iconic downtown areas,” Mayer said. “It is a huge undertaking.”

Mayer cited the influx of real estate development in downtown Miami over the last decade as a factor in selecting the Magic City.

“The whole area has exploded,” he said. “I used to live in Miami in the early 90s. The area that surrounds I-395 was pretty much a wasteland. Now, you have the arts center complex, Museum Park and the arena.”’

It wouldn’t be the first time Miami’s streets host high-speed cars. From 1983 to 1994, the buzzing howl of 1,000-horsepower engines and pungent odor of high-octane gas engulfed downtown Miami during an annual car race that attracted celebrity fans and the most popular names in racing. Back then, The Grand Prix of Miami was one of the city’s signature sporting events, even earning a spot in the opening credits of “Miami Vice.”

Grand Prix organizers moved the race to the Homestead-Miami Speedway following the 11-year run downtown.

The proposed race course includes streets abutting or near Miami-Dade College, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Perez Art Museum Miami and American Airlines Arena.

Andretti Sports Marketing, an Indianapolis firm owned by the famous racing family, is working with the city and representatives of those facilities to keep disruptions to a minimum.

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Owners of Formula E teams include the Andretti family, multi-billionaire Richard Branson and Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.

A spokesperson confirmed the Arsht Center is working with race organizers to ensure its patrons and employees are not disrupted by the event.

A Perez Art Museum representative did not respond to a request for comment.

Organizers say the Formula E race will be nothing like the Grand Prix of Miami or the short-lived Grand Prix of the Americas in 2002.

For starters, it’s a green race, with none of the cars combusting fuel. Event organizers also plan to have exhibitors on hand to promote sustainability products and services. And unlike Formula One events, where crowds reach up to 300,000 people, Formula E only expects to draw an average of 25,000 people.

The Formula E Championship is designed to promote interest and investment in electric vehicles and sustainable motoring, according to Mayer. The league is comprised of 10 teams. Miami’s race would be broadcast live on Fox Sports.

“The way we designed the course, people around the world will get to see Miami’s iconic waterfront and how the city has really developed,” Mayer said.

Local politicians are on board with the race so far, but several hurdles remain before the event is finalized.

Last year, Miami commissioners approved the race in concept. The commission must also grant Andretti Sports Marketing a special use permit for the proposed course. In March, the Miami-Dade County Commission directed Mayor Carlos Gimenez to prepare a report on the race’s potential economic impact.

Andretti Sports Marketing also still has to obtain approval from the Florida Department of Transportation to close off parts of Biscayne Boulevard and streets located near I-95 on-ramps.

“We don’t want to trap anyone inside residential buildings during the race,” Mayer said. “And we don’t want to close any businesses for the day.”