Is Canada’s Grand Prix in jeopardy?

MONTREAL – Ziggy Eichenbaum’s bar is a real draw on Crescent Street and he estimates a full third of his annual business comes from the week of the Canadian Grand Prix.

The Formula One race has been an economic boon for Montreal, with an economic impact of about $90 million a year. But recent stalled discussions have clouded the future of the race, whose contract is up next year.

“We’re worried about that,” he said. “We don’t know if the government of Quebec or Ottawa are going to say,  ‘well, it’s not bringing us anything, let’s bail out.'”

Both the provincial and federal governments say they’re trying to keep the race, and sign onto a contract that would keep it in Montreal through 2024. But federal officials indicated Wednesday they weren’t willing to put up any amount of money to keep the race.

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“We will work with the promoter and the other levels of government to see if it is possible to keep this event here, while respecting the taxpayers’ ability to pay,” a federal spokesperson wrote in an emailed prepared statement.

In the past, the city, provincial and federal governments have contributed upwards of $15 million a year for the race, which covers track upgrades and other costs. Reportedly Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone- known for driving hard bargains- is asking for that plus an annual five percent incremental increase.

The governments used to be in a stronger position regarding the race. For years it was the only stable North American date on F1’s globetrotting calendar after repeated attempts at launching the sport floundered in the United States. But Formula One managed to get a purpose-built track finished in Texas, and soon a grand prix is set to start with New York City as a backdrop.

With those new events now crowding the sport’s North American calendar, the governments may not have as strong as a position at the negotiating table.

Montreal’s mayor says he isn’t daunted.

“Even if New York comes on or another city comes on, I think that we’ve been able to negotiate very strongly with Mr. Ecclestone, and it’s a winning situation,” said Mayor Michael Applebaum in City Hall Wednesday.

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The Montreal business community, however, is hoping he’s right.

“We need the Grand Prix in Montreal,” said Max Bitton, who runs the Formula One shop in Old Montreal, a business that depends on the race. “The package we have is unique.”

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