Lawyer questions if Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle is legal

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The Detroit Grand Prix is set to start Friday, but its future here is still in flux. So much so, there's a new effort to get the race off Belle Isle.

One lawyer is questioning the legality of the big event. The City of Detroit and Department of Natural Resources say there is not a lot to question in this situation.

"In my opinion to have that auto race on our primary city park is a travesty. It doesn't belong there," said attorney Paul Kettunen, who added that it may even be illegal.

Kettunen works with a group of Detroiters that wants Belle Isle to pull the plug on the Detroit Grand Prix after this year's race.

"Fundamentally, the permits that need to be issued for this race to legally take place are under the City Motor Vehicle Racing Act of 1981," he said. "That is a state statute. That requires for any race to be conducted in city limits, the city must issue a permit."

Kettunen says that was done through a contract between the City of Detroit and the Grand Prix from 2007 and 2014, but it's unclear if that contract was renewed and if the permit has been granted since then.

But the city and the state's DNR, which has managed Belle Isle since the bankruptcy, disagree. They say the permit in question is unnecessary because Belle Isle is now a state park.

"The city ordinances are not what we operate under," said Ron Olson, DNR. "We operate under the authority of the State of Michigan and the laws that govern the state park."

But the city of Detroit still owns the park and, according to Kettunen, the City Motor Vehicle Racing Act still applies. There's long been concern about the race's impact on Belle Isle.

Parts of it are inaccessible for months leading up to the Grand Prix and weeks after it, not to mention the growing amounts of concrete and the erasure of greenspace.

"That's probably, to me, the worst part of this," said Kettunen. "The blight that's been created out there. It's not just the big concrete paddock, it's the pit stop concrete. It's the widening of roads, the construction of redundant walkways, more parking lots. 

"This is all to service a race that takes place one time a weekend a year."

But that weekend brings a different kind of green to metro Detroit. A study revealed the Grand Prix produced about $20 million in local income and had a total economic impact of $31 million.

That lawyer plans on lobbying Councilwoman Mary Sheffield about this issue if that doesn't work he may sue both the state and the organizers of the Detroit Grand Prix.