Belle Isle: Do the Right Thing

When I first moved to Indian Village in the spring of 2015, one of the bonuses was that I was right by Belle Isle.  However, to my disappointment, I found that the southern third of the island was closed off due to the ‘Load in Period’ for the Belle Isle Grand Prix for months at a time.  The race organizers, affiliates of the Penske Organization, reserve the right to close off as much of the island as they need for seven weeks before the race (which takes place in early June), and four weeks after the race (the ‘Load Out Period’).

I was, to say the least, surprised.  The Penske Organizations would need a total of eleven weeks, nearly a quarter of the year, to set up and break down a racing event on Belle Isle?  There are three main elements that shock me about this.

The first is that the Penske Organizations knows racing.  They’re not new to it.  The Penske name is one of the most storied in racing.  They should be well acquainted with the the details and organization of how one goes about setting up a race track.  These folks, after all, have been around it for years, and, by all accounts, they seem to be good at it.

The second is that the Penske Organization knows logistics.  Case in point: Penske Logistics.  Taken directly from the front page of their website: ‘Whatever your business, whatever you’re building, packing and sending – Penske has you covered with state-of-the-art transportation and distribution solutions.’  If they can provide that for their clients, why not the same level of service to Detroiters so we can can bet back at our park?

And here’s the third: well before my time, the Grand Prix took place downtown.  While I have no relevant memory of this, I can’t imagine that the race organizers at the time were given nearly three months to set it up and break it down.

So, in a nutshell, you have an organization that knows racing, owns a logistics business and we have historical precedent that the race can be set up and taken down in a time frame that is substantially shorter than eleven weeks.

The reason that I bring this up is that the Belle Isle Grand Prix organizers, the Penske folks, are going to be entering contract renewals with the Department of Natural Resources.  The piece of the contract that needs changing is the load in period and the load out period.  We can talk about how we need an environmental impact study, or how we should stop building more and more race infrastructure on the island, but this piece, this is a no brainer.

So, to the Belle Isle Park Advisory Commission, Ron Olson at the DNR, Bud Denker at the Penske Organization, do the right thing: compress the load in and load out periods to one week from eleven.  We know you can do it because you’re good at racing, you guys own a logistics business and it’s been done before.

If you’d like to come to the meeting to voice your support for this position, join us on September 20th at 6:00 p.m. at the Nature Center on Belle Isle (176 Lakeside Drive, Detroit MI 48207), for a meeting wherein lease renewal discussions are going to be held.  The more folks that we mobilize to support this position, the more likely it is that we’re going to see real, positive change.

And if you’d like to see a copy of the lease from 2006 and its extension, email me at, and I’ll get a copy over to you.


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