DOWNTOWN — Many Downtown residents would not support NASCAR returning to Chicago, according to a survey by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).
The survey from Reilly’s office generated 662 responses about the inaugural NASCAR Chicago Street race July 1-2, which booked a big chunk of Grant Park’s summer season because of setup and teardown. Residents were asked three questions related to NASCAR’s outreach, traffic closures and future NASCAR races in Chicago.
More than half of respondents — 54 percent — said they would not support holding future NASCAR races in Chicago. About 37 percent or respondents said they would support another NASCAR race and eight percent said they felt indifferent.
When it came to traffic, 58 percent of respondents said the race’s street closures negatively impacted their travels, compared to 34 percent who said it didn’t affect them.
Asked if neighbors were satisfied with NASCAR’s outreach, about 38 percent said yes, 32 percent said no and 29 percent said they felt neutral.
Reilly, whose ward includes Grant Park, blasted former Mayor Lori Lightfoot for a lack of transparency in bringing NASCAR to town, saying he was not looped into the plan until hours before the announcement.
Reilly has said he thinks the city’s three-year deal with NASCAR could still be killed, but praised NASCAR executives for their communication with his office and neighbors in the lead-up to the July race.
According to an Aug. 25 edition of his newsletter, the alderman said the survey responses, along with results from a recently commissioned NASCAR economic impact study, will help determine his position on the street race’s future.
The study is being conducted by the Sports Industry Research Center at Temple University and was commissioned in July by Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism arm.
The clock is ticking as NASCAR and the city can opt out 180 days before the second event next year, according to NASCAR’s contract with the Chicago Park District. That means a decision needs to be made roughly before the end of the year.
The NASCAR Street Race was estimated to bring $113 million into the local economy, according to a February report from the Sun-Times. But that puts the street race behind two other major Grant Park events: Sueños and Lollapalooza.
In its first year, the Sueños music fest in Grant Park generated $120 million and this year generated $181.6 million in economic impact for the city, according to studies festival organizers C3 commissioned. Sueños takes second place to Lollapalooza which generated $335.4 million last year in direct and indirect economic revenue in Chicago, according to a study C3 commissioned.
The street race has also faced controversy over how long it took over green space at Grant Park.
Originally the race was forecasted for a two-week takeover. Block Club Chicago revealed the setup, event and teardown was extended to 39 days, which originally resulted in softball leagues being booted from playing at Grant Park.
Permitted vendors at Grant Park also have said they had a tough time making money because they were forced to shut down for several days because of street closures and race setup around the park.
Race officials expected 100,000 people for the two-day racing event, but lighting and flash floods shortened races and canceled concerts like Miranda Lambert and Chainsmokers.
Ticket holders mostly stayed away during the torrential downpour until races started later in the evening, leaving the event mostly empty throughout the day.
This year, NASCAR paid the Chicago Park District a $500,000 permit fee. The racing behemoth is scheduled to pay $550,000 in 2024 and $605,000 in 2025 if those races are staged, according to its contract.
The Park District also will receive 15 percent of net commissions on concession and merchandise, plus $2 per admission ticket, the contract states.
Asked Aug. 2 about bringing back the NASCAR race, Mayor Brandon Johnson said he would make the decision “a real community-led process.”
“As far as … the disruption that took place and how the city of Chicago benefited from it is something that we have to really dig a little bit deeper and explore … then make sure that there is a real community-led process with the local alderpeople to help drive that discussion and then a decision will be made based upon those conversations,” the mayor said.
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