Downtown residents divided on NASCAR’s return to Chicago, new surveys show

The major concerns residents reported were significant disruptions to traffic and access to Grant Park before, during and after race weekend.

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Cars race down Michigan Ave during NASCAR’s first street race in downtown, on Saturday, July 1, 2023.

Residents who live close to the NASCAR street course are about evenly split on whether Chicago should host another race, according to surveys by City Council members.

Mustafa Hussain/For the Sun-Times

Downtown residents have mixed feelings about the NASCAR Street Race returning to Chicago next year.

City Council members who represent the areas in and around the race course have surveyed their constituents’ thoughts on the event before deciding whether they will support future races.

Ald. Bill Conway (34th) polled his ward and found residents were evenly divided on whether the event should return in 2024.

“The purpose of this analysis was to provide a framework for a broader cost-benefit analysis to help determine whether or not the city should go forward with more NASCAR races, make adjustments to the event or never have the event again,” Conway said.

The survey of the ward, which includes Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Van Buren streets, received responses from 300 constituents. The results were broken down by how close the residents live to the course: within a quarter mile, between a quarter mile and 1 mile, and farther than 1 mile from the event.

Another survey found about 58% of participants said they do not support NASCAR returning to Chicago. The unscientific poll, which received 662 responses, was conducted by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose ward includes much of downtown and Grant Park.

In a newsletter to his constituents, Reilly said he would rely on resident feedback and an economic impact study from the city’s tourism agency to decide whether he would support future downtown NASCAR races.

The poll was conducted through his website, making it open to anyone to participate. Reilly’s office did not have a breakdown of how many ward residents answered the survey.

The Chicago Sports Commission at Choose Chicago has commissioned an economic impact report on the NASCAR weekend. The study is being conducted by the Sports Industry Research Center at Temple University.

This year’s race weekend in early July took over Grant Park and shut down parts of DuSable Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue. Lightning and torrential rains disrupted much of the two-day event — both races were cut short and most of the weekend’s concerts were canceled.

The city entered a three-year agreement with NASCAR, which included a two-year renewal option. The city has until 180 days, or six months, before the 2024 race to decide whether to pull out of the deal. Next year’s event is scheduled for July 6 and 7.

Jim Wales, president of South Loop Neighbors and vice president of the Grant Park Advisory Council, also said residents’ opinions were a mixed bag.

“Some people were in favor of never hosting the race again, while some were pleasantly surprised by the race,” Wales said. “Nationally, it did portray Chicago in a bright light. The benefits of that are difficult to measure, but it certainly was a plus.”

The biggest concern Wales heard from residents is how long Grant Park was shut down before and after the race.

“The city really has to focus on expediting the setup and takedown of the track,” Wales said. “There also has to be communication between the city officials, park officials and the people who use Grant Park as their neighborhood park. We have to engage the citizens instead of just saying this is just what’s going to happen.”

In Conway’s poll, most residents living within a quarter-mile of the race reported severe impacts on traffic and access to park spaces. Another poll from Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) found 52% of the 400 residents surveyed in her ward had their daily commute significantly affected by the course set-up.

An analysis of the NASCAR race impacts from Ald. Bill Conway (34th) found that residents were evenly divided on whether the event should return in 2024.

An analysis of the NASCAR race impacts from Ald. Bill Conway (34th) found that residents were evenly divided on whether the event should return in 2024.

Ald. Bill Conway (34th)

Conway’s analysis also looked at the economic impact of the race weekend, though a full breakdown of what the city paid and gained from the event has not been publicly shared.

“A remaining question is, what was the cost for the city to put on this event?” Conway said. “The reason my office put this together is to show the urgent need to put together a more thorough, professional analysis before the city has to decide to go forward with the race.”

His study found hotels in the area reported a modest increase in revenue while restaurants did not experience the same bump.

NASCAR paid the Chicago Park District a $500,000 permit fee for the weekend. The permit fee rises to $550,000 in 2024 and $605,000 in 2025. The Park District also received a 15% commission on concessions, $2 per admission ticket and a $50,000 security deposit for damages to Grant Park.

The exact amount the city will receive from concessions and tickets has yet to be reported.

In February, NASCAR projected the street race would bring in $113 million to the local economy.

A poll conducted by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) found that over half of participants do not want the NASCAR street race to return to Chicago.

An online poll conducted by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) found that over half of participants do not want the NASCAR street race to return to Chicago.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd)

Reilly’s poll asked residents three questions: How satisfied were you with outreach by NASCAR? Did the traffic closures associated with the event negatively impact your travels? Do you support NASCAR holding future races in Chicago?

Respondents were mixed on how they rated NASCAR’s outreach efforts. About 38% were satisfied, 32% said they were dissatisfied and 29% said they were neutral.

Traffic closures in and around the race course negatively affected 58% of respondents, 34% said the race had no impact on their travels and 7% were indifferent.

About 54% of the residents polled said they do not support future NASCAR races in the city, while 37% said they did, and 8% were indifferent.

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