Potential IndyCar, Lawn on D Deal May Cost Visitors

Since its opening in 2014, the Lawn on D, a 2.7-acre South Boston park operated by the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, has attracted over 230,000 visitors with its assortment of public art exhibitions, lawn games, colorful lounge chairs and free Wi-Fi.

Holiday weekends, including Labor Day, draw big crowds to free public programming that includes live music and food trucks alongside the regular amenities. Last year the lawn hosted around 7,700 visitors during Labor Day weekend.

But this next Labor Day could see park regulars shut out of the facility unless they pay up to $135, if plans to rent the space to IndyCar road race organizers are finalized in coming weeks.

Representatives from both the Lawn on D and the Grand Prix of Boston confirmed that negotiations to use the space for private events throughout Labor Day weekend are taking place.

While an IndyCar representative said ticket prices for the Seaport event have not yet been announced, tickets on sale for IndyCar events in other cities provide an estimate for what consumers can expect to pay.

Tickets to the Grand Prix St. Petersburg race in Florida are selling between $55 for a general admission ticket to $135 for reserved seats in the upper row grandstands. Access to all three days of the race is included in the price.

Conversely, one-day tickets to the Grand Prix Indianapolis race run between $30 for a general admission ticket to $77 for grandstand seating.

Sean Flanagan of IndyCar would not clarify whether the Lawn on D space would be used for general admission events or grandstand seating to view the race. The Lawn on D sits along the proposed finish line for the course.

“We are still working on if we will be using that space and what would take place there,” Flanagan said in an email. “Anything we do in the space will be open to event ticketholders.”

During its 16-months of operation, the Lawn on D has provided community-driven, musical, and arts-based events, including Pentalum, an inflatable multi-dome filled with mazes of different shapes and colors, and the now-famous glowing ring-shaped swings open for public use.

The majority of the events on the lawn are free to the public, but private ticketed events such as concerts, fitness classes and food exhibits have ranged from $5 to $75.

John Keith, who lives across from the Lawn on D, said the proposed IndyCar events won’t lend themselves to regular visitors of the lawn who enjoy the free programming.

“This will be an event for ‘rich’ people,” Keith said in an email. “For the event, it seems like a fair price, but I think everyone would be happier if the space they were making private wasn’t the Lawn on D that is used for public events.”

Keith, however, said he understands that the Authority needs to rent the space for private events in order to make enough revenue to cover their costs when the space is open to the general public.

Last week the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority announced that it would be looking for new ways to make the park more self-sustainable after spending over $2 million more in operating costs than the park made during the 2015 season.

Total revenue for the Lawn on D was $424,000, while expenses such as lawn maintenance, infrastructure, professional services and programming cost the agency nearly $2.8 million, Johanna Storella, the chief strategy officer for the lawn, said.

“For next season we will be looking at both corporate sponsors, a fundraising event, and we anticipate booking a greater number of private events,” Storella said in an email.

Storella said rental costs for private events held at the lawn will run between $18,000 to $20,000 per day in the 2016 season, which includes access to all of the infrastructure and games the lawn has to offer.

While IndyCar organizers said they would only be using the space during the three-day Labor Day Weekend, Storella previously told The Boston Herald that organizers were looking into renting the lawn for up to five weeks.

Part of the rental period would include the time the convention authority needs to break down and re-set up any existing infrastructure race organizers want removed. It is unclear how long the park would be closed to the public during this time.

At $20,000 a day for five weeks, this means the lawn would bring in nearly $700,000 in revenue for just one event. This is almost double the revenue for the 2015 season in just a fraction of the time.

Keith said he respects the lawn’s existence as a privately-owned space with the authority to rent out as they please, but said even with a potentially large revenue from IndyCar, the Authority could still lose money by hosting such a large event.

“If the [Authority] tries to position this as a way to make up for its deficit, though, I think they’re trying to bullshit us,” Keith said. “They’ll still lose money, regardless of the race. It doesn’t account for any expenses they will incur – having to put in new turf or hiring more security.”

Storella said the Authority has a lot to gain financially by renting to IndyCar for an extended period of time. Although it may temporarily cost visitors access to the park, Storella said the Authority will ensure more public programming throughout the rest of the season.

“The event itself will demonstrate The Lawn’s true potential and flexibility as an outdoor event space and we are excited to potentially see it used in such a large-scale event,” Storella said. “Obviously programming may be impeded during IndyCar’s use of The Lawn, but as we plan The Lawn’s 2016 season, we will take this into consideration and ensure we deliver fantastic events for the community throughout the May-October timespan the Lawn is open.”

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