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F-1 races to Hard Rock stadium for spring 2021

The cars are gassed and at the starting line.

All that’s left? For Miami-Dade County to drop the green flag.

A race months in the making is one step closer to reality. Formula One has finalized an agreement in principle with Hard Rock Stadium to bring annual F-1 racing to South Florida beginning in May 2021, the Miami Herald has learned.

Track Rendering

“We are thrilled to announce that Formula One and Hard Rock Stadium have reached an agreement in principle to host the first-ever Formula One Miami Grand Prix at Hard Rock Stadium,” Dolphins CEO Tom Garfinkel and Sean Bratches, F-1’s managing director of commercial operations, said in a joint statement. “With an estimated annual impact of more than $400 million and 35,000 room nights, the Formula One Miami Grand Prix will be an economic juggernaut for South Florida each and every year.

“We are deeply grateful to our fans, elected officials and the local tourism industry for their patience and support throughout this process,” Garfinkel added. “We look forward to bringing the greatest racing spectacle on the planet for the first time to one of the world’s most iconic and glamorous regions.”

Now, it’s up to Miami-Dade County commissioners.

There has been pushback from Miami Gardens residents, Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes Hard Rock Stadium, and Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, who is running to replace her. Both Jordan and Gilbert have come out publicly against holding the event.

Jordan proposed legislation to require a commission vote before Formula One could win county approval for the temporary closure of part of Northwest 199th Street during race weekend. A decision on the legislation could come this month.

A once-fraught relationship between the Dolphins and the surrounding community has improved significantly in the past three decades, but the team and a group of neighbors, led by community activist Betty T. Ferguson, disagree on whether the event should be held at Hard Rock Stadium. Ferguson led a protest against the race Sunday at the intersection of Northwest 27th Avenue and 199th Street.

Residents fret about traffic, noise, and pollution. They have an advocate in Jordan, who has otherwise been a longtime ally of the Dolphins and voted in favor of bringing F-1 to Miami-Dade last year.

Organizers argue the race is mostly self-contained on stadium property, not in close proximity to homes, and short-lived, with races lasting only two to three hours one weekend per year, while showcasing Miami Gardens and the South Florida region to the world.

And then there’s the economic benefit, which planners say will be on the scale of a Super Bowl.

Leaders of the region’s hospitality and tourism industry, which typically sees a slowdown following the peak winter months, are thrilled about the prospect of joining an elite list of F-1 host cities, which include Monaco, Singapore, and Barcelona.

“We support, and love, and are very excited about the prospect of Formula One coming,” said Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association. “I can tell you all of our hotels across Miami-Dade County, our employees, our general managers are very excited about it.”

Grandstands Rendering

Kallergis spoke in favor of F-1 coming to South Florida on behalf of the hotel industry at a recent county commission meeting.

Originally, the plan was for F-1 to race on a downtown Miami street course. But that was scrapped due to concerns about business interruptions. The three-month construction of the racetrack every year on city streets would have caused big headaches for PortMiami, the Florida East Coast Railway, the Miami Heat, and other businesses and residents along Biscayne Boulevard.

So that’s when organizers turned their attention to Hard Rock Stadium and its surrounding grounds, all of which are owned by Stephen Ross. He would cover all race costs, including an expected $40 million custom track that would run predominantly on the Hard Rock Stadium grounds thus making the Formula One race eligible for a marquee-event grant per a 2014 agreement with the county.

Discussions began this year with F-1 and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. They remain ongoing.

Organizers have heard the concerns of those opposed but point out that the stadium location offers a racecourse design that is mostly self-contained on the stadium site, requiring only limited use of Northwest 199th Street and a fraction of the construction work that would have been required by the downtown plan.

“Hosting the race at the stadium site limits the work that has to be done to public streets, which means very little disruption to surrounding residents and businesses as we prepare for the race,” Bratches said.

Whether locals and the elected officials who represent them view it that way remains to be seen.