Nearly nine months after Washington's Grand Prix auto race, a temporary 1.7-mile track still sits on the grounds of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium despite assurances from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission that the course would be removed after the event.
Robert D. Goldwater, the commission's president and executive director, said the hundreds of concrete barriers in parking lots 6 and 7 at RFK are technically a violation of the 10-year contract between the agency and the race promoter. The promoter, National Grand Prix Holdings LLC, based in North Carolina, is responsible for clearing the site.
But although grandstands, walkways, tents and other race amenities were removed after the event, Goldwater said, the commission decided to keep most of the concrete jersey barriers in place at the suggestion of D.C. police.
He said an officer from the local police district told the commission that the large concrete blocks would discourage trespassers from entering the lots and racing around on them. Goldwater, who noted that the barriers are also effective in catching litter, said he did not know the name of the officer who made the recommendation.
However, D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey denied that the department asked the sports commission to keep all or part of the course intact.
"If the sports commission is claiming that we asked them to keep the track up, it is absolutely not true," Ramsey said. "No rank-and-file officer would have that authority.
"The police department is concerned with kids and others getting on the track, racing on it and getting seriously hurt," he said. "They could have taken it down months ago."
About the time that Goldwater and commission Chairman John L. Richardson were first told of Ramsey's position last November, orange barriers connected by wires were placed at various points to prevent drivers from using the course.
Now that this year's race has been canceled -- after a dispute with the promoter over noise abatement during the event -- Goldwater has told the company it has to clear the jersey barriers from the parking lots. He said that the sports commission notified the company several weeks ago and is awaiting a response.
With the weather becoming warmer, sports commission officials said, more cars will be parking in the lots during the farmers market, which operates on Thursdays and Saturdays in lot 6. Furthermore, people are expected to use the lots as they venture to nearby Kingman Island during the spring and summer months.
Frazer Walton Jr., president of the Kingman Park Civic Association, said the course's concrete barriers have forced cars to park on residential streets during the farmers market while also trapping trash and other debris that is eventually blown into the neighborhood. The association recently formed a committee to monitor track-related problems and urged the sports commission to remove the barriers.
Alfred Smith, director of the farmers market, said that vendors lost business when they were temporarily relocated to other RFK parking lots last year to accommodate the Grand Prix and afterward when they were allowed back in lot 6. Smith said the vendors are concerned that business may be hurt again this year during the peak sales months from May to November unless the track is taken down.
"When we returned last year, we experienced . . . anywhere from a 15 to 20 percent drop in revenue . . . because of the congestion caused by the track being there," Smith said. "The physical structure has been hurting us, and we will continue to experience that problem unless we get more parking."
Goldwater said: "The barriers have been an intrusion, and I have never liked the look. Hopefully, we will get those out of there fairly quickly."
But opponents of the Grand Prix said that the track's continued presence is another example of how the sports commission and the promoters have misled the public about the Grand Prix.
"From what I can tell, the sports commission never acted like the track was temporary because they never lifted a finger to remove the barriers and make the parking lot fully useful again," said John Capozzi, a community activist who regularly jogs around the lots.
"The idea that they deceived somebody about another aspect of the Grand Pix is nothing new. It's the sports commission," Capozzi said.
Goldwater contended that the track is not a permanent structure -- the barriers are removable -- and that the sports commission repaved and repaired the lots as it said it would. The commission put up about $5.1 million to produce smooth surface for the race as part of a deal under which the promoters would repay half of the amount over the life of the decade-long agreement. But with this year's race canceled and the future of Washington's Grand Prix in doubt, it remains to be seen whether the District will ever be paid back, city officials said.
"We are working through the issues with NGPH," Goldwater said. "We are going back and forth."
David A. Clark, director of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, agreed that the racetrack is not actually a permanent structure because it functioned as a course only once. He also said that its ongoing presence does not violate any of the city's zoning regulations.
"It all comes down to use," Clark said. "The barricades themselves do not make it a racetrack."
Nonetheless, Clark said, neither the sports commission nor the promoters were forthcoming about aspects of the Grand Prix.
"I don't know that we feel any more misled about this than any other aspect of the race," he said. "There were some things that they said about this race that turned out to be not true. They presented us with documents about the race, but their actions turned out to be otherwise."