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The Las Vegas Grand Prix transforms the city's streets

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Traffic advisory now for downtown Las Vegas, and that includes those at the wheel of Formula 1 race cars. The Las Vegas Grand Prix has changed the city's streets into a racetrack, a giant no-go zone for residents and tourists who don't have expensive tickets. And it became a no-go zone for racers as well when a loose utility cover led Thursday's practice session to be scrubbed. This morning's qualifying round went much more smoothly. Jacob Solis is a reporter from The Nevada Independent. He joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

JACOB SOLIS: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: What's the Strip look like now?

SOLIS: Well, it's completely transformed at this point. They've spent months constructing a permanent paddock facility just off the Strip and erecting all of these barriers and fences and lights to make a street circuit to light up Las Vegas at night. And frankly, it's inescapable at this point. Everywhere you look, it's all F1 all the time. All that said, it's also very Vegas. You know, the circuit itself has playing cards and roulette wheels painted on the curbs that are red and white all around the circuit. There's a wedding chapel in that paddock. I mean, if it's Vegas, it's got to be Vegas.

SIMON: And do people like it?

SOLIS: Depends who you ask. I think if you were to ask locals, I think there's a lot of frustration. Like I said, a lot of that construction has taken months and months and months and really skyrocketed commutes for tens of thousands of Strip employees who are still, frankly, struggling to get to the track because they have to ride the monorail into work now because the Strip will be closed. Other locals are upset because small businesses, frankly, have suffered because F1 has displaced a lot of foot traffic that is now going solely to F1 and, say, not to other things - stuff like shows are dark. Restaurants have lower reservations. And I think expectations haven't necessarily been matched at that end.

SIMON: You talked to some fans, right?

SOLIS: That's right. And I think it really - you know, for the fans, there was some excitement for this race. I think a lot of folks looked at Las Vegas on the F1 calendar. The sport promised a spectacle, and in a lot of ways, they've delivered, right? This track looks like nothing else. And I spoke to some folks who were just excited to be there. There was one fan, Alexander Hinojosa. He's a 19-year-old from Riverside who drove in. He has family in Las Vegas. And he came in, though, on the Thursday because Vegas, as it turns out, is the most expensive race on the calendar. And Thursday was the only ticket he could afford.

ALEXANDER HINOJOSA: Well, you pretty much - so you have the same seats. You're seeing the same thing because it's not like you have a bird's eye view. You're seeing the same part of the track, same cars going. Maybe the overtaking, if there is any, would it be worth it for the race. Maybe not for qualifying though.

SOLIS: Might as well just watch it on TV?

HINOJOSA: Yeah, I like to watch it on TV. Sure.

SOLIS: Yeah.

But obviously, that didn't really go to plan. The first session was canceled after nine minutes, and then the second practice was delayed for roughly two hours, long enough that organizers had to send fans home before it even started at 2 a.m. local time.

SIMON: And Formula 1 has spent, I gather, half a billion dollars on this event. Does it look like money well spent this weekend, both for the organizers and, for that matter, the Las Vegas economy?

SOLIS: Well, I think that's the billion-dollar question here because the sport has promised essentially a $1.3 billion economic impact over the course of the weekend, right? So that's about $900 million in consumer spending, something like $87 million in tax collections. But a lot of that is riding on whether or not high rollers spend as much as folks are expecting them to. Like I said earlier, ticket prices were astronomical, and I think there was a - less ticket interest than expected. Even if they sell out on the race, they might not sell out on those Thursday practice sessions or the Friday qualifying session.

Then from there, you know, visitor volumes have been a little reduced, I think, from what people were expecting also. We've seen hotel room prices plummet. And so I think we're really going to have to wait and see what the effect is there and whether or not these sort of lofty expectations pan out. For the sport itself, I think they want to prove to folks that they can make it happen because it's the sport itself that's making this happen. Vegas, I should say, is the only race on the calendar where F1 is the promoter, and so they are personally tied in in whether or not Vegas can be a success.

SIMON: Sunday gathers the big race. What do you expect and how long before the Strip is back to being the Strip?

SOLIS: Well, it should be an interesting race. It'll be one of the coldest on the calendars because they put it in November at the middle of the night. So it won't be chilly chilly, but it won't be warm. For fans, I think the thing to watch is whether or not there are full grandstands because Miami and Austin, the other two Formula 1 races, have seen sort of similar problems to Vegas, where they're frankly quite expensive. And folks are picking and choosing when and where they want to go to an F1 track, even as Formula 1 becomes more popular in the United States.

Now, looking at Las Vegas, when's it going to be back to normal? That's a good question because, you know, to some extent this could be the new normal if this race is here through the three years of this contract and frankly, through the 10 years that folks are talking about keeping this race at a minimum. And frankly, a lot of the changes that are there now could be here to stay.

SIMON: Jacob Solis of The Nevada Independent, thanks so much for being with us.

SOLIS: Thanks so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jacob Solis
Jacob is a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno studying journalism and political science. Before coming to KUNR in the fall of 2017 as an intern, Jacob worked for KNPR as a reporter covering Nevada’s 2017 legislative session in Carson City. He has also been a writer and editor for UNR’s student-run newspaper, The Nevada Sagebrush, since 2014.