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Downtown residents still split on NASCAR — but some urge it to be more like Lollapalooza

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Chicago’s second NASCAR Street Race apparently did nothing to change the opinions of downtown residents who live near the Grant Park race track.

"Just like last year, half are against it and half of them are for it," said Jim Wales, president of South Loop Neighbors and vice president of the Grant Park Advisory Council.

But seeing the race firsthand did soften the tone of one of the event's most vocal City Council critics — somewhat.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) stopped by the racetrack on Saturday, the first time he's ever been to a NASCAR race.

"I do see the benefits, the tourism it brings and that NASCAR puts Chicago on the international stage, and frankly, we look pretty good," Hopkins said. "I know I'm always a critic of NASCAR but they have done the best possible job. To build a temporary Daytona speedway in downtown Chicago, I don't think anyone can do it better than them."

But Hopkins, who represents parts of downtown, still sees the problems as well.

And downtown residents have the same complaints they've had since the race was first proposed, Hopkins said.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) speaks during a rally and march in 2022.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) speaks during a rally and march in 2022.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The residents' top concerns include the time it takes to set up and take down the course, the noise during the race weekend, the traffic disruptions and loss of opportunity to use Grant Park for weeks during Chicago's precious summer months, Hopkins said.

"The problem we face is an unsolvable problem. There's really no way to have this race and to satisfy the downtown residents losing access to Grant Park," Hopkins said. "Downtown residents live for the summer months."

Going forward, Hopkins will continue to push for a more equitable deal with NASCAR.

If the race operator decides to extend the contract beyond 2025, which Hopkins says seems likely, he would like for the racing group to pony up more funds.

Wales, who also lives near Grant Park, is personally a fan of the race.

"I think the event brings a lot of positive spin to the city and shows the city off in an extremely good light," said Wales, who also lives near Grant Park.

But he also wants NASCAR to directly invest in Grant Park.

"If these massive events are going to come in and use the park, they should be leaving the park in better condition than they found it," Wales said. For example, Lollapalooza recently donated $500,000 to fix up the park's tennis courts and add pickleball courts, he added.

Fans enjoy Day 3 of Lollapalooza in Grant Park, August 3rd 2019.

Fans enjoy Day 3 of Lollapalooza in Grant Park, August 3rd 2019.

Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

In general, the city should be encouraging event producers to use other open spaces in the city, Wales said.

"I don’t think everything has to be in Grant Park," he said. "We should share the wealth and balance these other events throughout the city."

Hopkins also wants the city to commission a more independent and thorough economic study on NASCAR's financial impact.

Last year's race brought the city $108.9 million in economic activity from corporate spenders and tourists, according to a report written by Temple University’s Sports Industry Research Center and commissioned by Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism agency.

While he doesn't dispute the report's findings, he says the conclusions were "a bit generous" and he would like the next study to use a more standardized economic analysis model called IMPLAN.

"We need to get a more accurate and specific picture" of this year's race, Hopkins said.

NASCAR's current three-year contract left a lot of potential money for the city off the table, he said.

NASCAR paid the Chicago Park District a $500,000 permit fee for the first race. The permit fee rose to $550,000 in 2024 and $605,000 in 2025. The Park District also received a 15% commission on concessions and $2 per admission ticket. The race operator also kicked in an additional $2 million ahead of this year's race.

The city spent $3.5 million in preparation and staffing costs for the 2023 race, according to South Side Weekly.

"If we use the Lollapalooza standard and look at the benefits versus the disruption, there is a dramatic difference between Lolla and NASCAR," Hopkins said.

Meanwhile, Lollapalooza organizers pay the city at least $2 million for a four-day festival, $1.5 million for a three-day fest, and $750,000 if it’s canceled. In 2022, the music festival generated an estimated $335.4 million for the city.

"We really drove a hard bargain during the most recent contract with Lollapalooza and the difference speaks for itself," Hopkins said. "But we rolled over for NASCAR."

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