HoJo's To Miami Motorsports: No Prix Fee for Thee!

Grand Prix poobah Ralph Sanchez went to the downtown Howard Johnson's with his hand outstretched. And an ultimatum.

Sanchez, who recalls the December 20 meeting a little differently - he says he has no financial troubles and he set no deadline - followed up the conversation with his January 6 letter. "It would be so nice if these people acted differently," says the promoter, who contends that it's only fair for the hotel to share in the cost of the bonanza. "Every year the race is costing more and more money, and we have to get those people who benefit from the race to help the race out. Every hotel in Dade County we have asked for help has come forward in terms of complimentary rooms, dinners, press conference facilities, cocktail parties, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, except for the Howard Johnson Port of Miami. Some of the teams stay at the hotel and they have complained about rates going up progressively over the years. What these people are doing is raping our fans, our teams, and our sponsors. It just makes my blood boil."

Well, not exactly every hotel in Dade County. While the Howard Johnson is the only hotel that's actually within the race-car circuit, Sanchez didn't approach management of the nearby Everglades Hotel, on Biscayne Boulevard at Third Street, nor did he seek monetary aid from the Best Western Marina Park Hotel one block to the north. (Neither hotel raises its room rates for the Grand Prix.)

Miami Mayor Suarez isn't in an ideal position to play the role of impartial observer. This year the City of Miami will provide about $220,000 worth of police, fire, and sanitation services for the event. In return, Sanchez says, he expects to pay the city twenty percent of what he estimates will be a net profit of less than one million dollars. Sanchez has also spoken of building a permanent race course to stage the event, and not necessarily at Bicentennial Park. Talk of a move comes, in part, because of a dispute between Sanchez and the city commission over the city's decision to encourage development in a section of the park that now serves as a staging area for the race. Metro-Dade commissioners last month tentatively earmarked nine million dollars for a new racetrack, with funds to be generated by a one-percent hotel tax approved this past year by the Florida Legislature.

After reviewing the Howard Johnson papers, Suarez observes, "If someone happens to be in the right place at the right time with their property rights, I don't know of any law to keep them from profiting from the event. I certainly know what Mr. Sanchez is trying to do, but the economic argument is not convincing. We'll get a legal opinion to see what rights the promoter might have to negotiate participation of hotels in the vicinity. My hunch is he has no rights at all. I also doubt that Mr. Sanchez has done anything illegal. It's not a `strong-arm tactic,' exactly; we probably ought to get an opinion on that."

For now, Thompson's letter to the mayor has prompted Sanchez to reconsider his threat of obstructing sight lines. "They are the ones fanning the flames. The principle is not dollars," insists the promoter, adding that he hasn't yet decided whether the banner will go up. "If they would donate money to the Camillus House or charity, I could accept it. The ripping off of our people continuously is laughing at what we're trying to do. Right now, I don't want their money. Give it to the homeless, for God's sake! But I want to see a check!"

Responds Universal Hotels' manager Lenny Stark: "Mr. Sanchez certainly is entitled to think what he wants, but I don't recall him being on our board of directors to tell us where to put our income.

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