Downtown Miami

Downtown Miami could host Formula One Grand Prix for next decade under potential deal

2017 Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain steers a Mercedes-Benz race car during the Emirates Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017.
2017 Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain steers a Mercedes-Benz race car during the Emirates Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina racetrack in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2017. AP

Miami is considering a 10-year deal with international auto racing giant Formula One to host a Grand Prix on the streets of downtown.

If the City Commission gives its blessing next week, Miami City Manager Emilio Gonzalez would have until July 1 to negotiate a contract to bring the world's preeminent auto racing league to downtown for a huge event, with organizers hoping to hold the inaugural three-day event in October 2019.

While discussions are preliminary and a final contract would still need commission approval in the coming months, next week's vote signals the city's openness to hosting what would be the largest race downtown has ever seen. It would be the first downtown street race since the Miami ePrix, an electric automobile race that ran once in 2015. A decade earlier, an IndyCar-style race cut through Museum Park (then-known as Bicentennial Park) one year, and since 1983 other types of auto-racing roared down Biscayne Boulevard.

But boosters might hit one speed bump that didn't exist before: Neighbors. Downtown is now more densely populated with tower dwellers who will have something to say about another huge event creating noise and congestion, bringing thousands to the urban core.

For now, commissioners will consider whether they want to start bargaining at all. A vote to authorize negotiations is set for May 10.

“Formula One racing has global appeal, and so does the city of Miami," said city spokesman Eugene Ramirez, adding that any agreement would need final approve from the commission later this summer.

Formula One has not been shy about its desire to expand in the United States, with Miami on its radar since last year. While Formula One was scouting Miami and discussing potential racing circuits with the city last year, the PortMiami Tunnel was at one point proposed as part of the route — an idea that was quickly ruled out.

Ken Russell, the district commissioner for downtown, said neighbors' concerns would be allayed if organizers could stage a race with minimal street closures and as little noise as possible.

"If we get this right, this could be very positive for the city," he said.

News of a potential long-term deal for a Miami Grand Prix, first reported by the Miami New Times, began to circulate in European media on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, Formula One confirmed that the organization wants to work out an agreement with the city.

"With over half a billion fans worldwide, Formula One is the greatest racing spectacle on the planet, and Miami’s status as one of the world’s most iconic and glamorous cities, combined with its robust tourism infrastructure, makes Miami the perfect destination for Formula One and its fans," Sean Bratches, managing director for Formula One's commercial operations, said in a statement.

One of the unique things about the electric Formula-e cars is their sound or lack thereof. Here's what the long-delayed Miami ePrix practice sounded like, March 2015.

Under initial contract terms that would be discussed if the commission gives the green light, a new company belonging to Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross would be the Miami Grand Prix's promoter, the entity that would stage and advertise the event.

“Miami is a first-class global city and Formula One is a first-class global brand," Ross said in a statement. "In cooperation with the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County, I am confident we can deliver yet another global event that will be a destination for people from around the world and drive economic value to South Florida. From football and soccer to tennis and motorsports, Miami deserves only the best in music, food, art, fashion, and sports and entertainment, and that is exactly what we plan on delivering with a Formula One race.”

Late last year, Formula One met with elected Mayor Francis Suarez to discuss possible routes on city streets. Given the growth of residential condos in downtown, neighbors are likely to raise concerns over noise and traffic congestion over the event. Residents already complain about music from nearby nightclubs and when events such as Ultra Music Festival take over Bayfront Park.

If approved, it would be the first time that the Formula One racing series is held in Miami. But historically, IndyCar-style racing on Miami's streets is nothing new.

In the 1980s, the Miami Grand Prix, overseen by promoter Ralph Sanchez, ran through Bayfront Park and the streets of downtown. The race was part of a separate series not affiliated with Formula One.

In 2015, the city hosted an electric automobile race called the Miami ePrix, which is under the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile’s Formula E racing series. While well-attended, this, too, prompted some outcry from residents, and the event was held only once. The Formula E cars were quiet by auto racing standards, while the high-pitched whine of Formula One cars brings out earplugs even in many veteran racing fans.

Fans on foot at the inaugural Miami ePrix found themselves in long, stagnant lines at the foot bridges, March 2015.