As the city of Long Beach reviews responses from a Request for Proposal for the Grand Prix race operations, let's consider the implications.
The city is calling for a 15-year operating agreement. That's nearly another generation of undeveloped land along our waterfront. The footprint of this agreement is nearly 200 acres of prime waterfront real estate. Is a three-day event really the highest and best use of this land?
Let's expand the Deloitte review process to consider fully what could happen on this property. An economic impact study of all possibilities could help everyone have a better understanding of what is at stake. Would it make sense to consider other options and would it be in the Council's and Mayor's office fiduciary responsibility to weigh in all options for this property? The Grand Prix has moved several times; perhaps there are alternatives we should explore.
This year's Grand Prix showed how far it has fallen. We have directly observed, over the last 15 years, a steady decline in attendance, profound reductions in grandstand seating and an overall decline in general admission attendance. Our sales numbers this year were off dramatically and in speaking with Kurt Schneiter at the Famous Dave's, he echoed similar results and frustrations. I would ask the City Attorney's office to call for an audit of the Grand Prix as the published attendance reports by the Grand Prix Association are inconsistent with our direct observations.
Finally, I would like to ask, "If the Grand Prix is such a great economic development engine, why hasn't Long Beach kept pace with San Diego?"
In 1992, our two downtowns were at a similar state of redevelopment. Both were gritty waterfronts filled with traditional Navy entertainment. Since that time, San Diego has expanded their Convention Center, built 10,000 residential units, opened a Major League Baseball stadium and in the last 10 years built eight luxury hotels along the waterfront, creating tens of thousands of jobs for San Diegans. In contrast, the Long Beach can point to the near 11 years it took to build the Current.
I offer this anecdotal story. My mother started the Las Vegas Grand Prix in the late ’70s. Caesar's Palace ran two years of F1 and two years of Indy Cars on 66 acres of parking lots. Attendance each year over three days ran around 110,000. What management discovered was there was a higher and better use for the property and built the Forum Shops and the Mirage, which attracts millions annually.
It's time to consider the possibilities. It's time for Long Beach to Dream Big!
John Sangmeister is the managing partner of Gladstone's Long Beach restaurant.