'Mission accomplished': Denis Coderre says race was success, despite complaints

Montreal's mayor says the Formula E race was worth it, despite the apparent low turnout, complaints from business owners and nearby residents that they were trapped by the course - and the fact that the city had to spend its own money to host the event.

Montreal mayor says there are things to work on but vows race will take place again next year

​Formula E founder Alejandro Agag, left, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, centre, and Simon Pillarella - the head of Montréal, c'est électrique! - speak at a news conference after the Formula E race in Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says the Formula E race was worth it, despite the apparent low turnout, complaints from business owners and nearby residents that they were trapped by the course — and the fact that the city had to spend its own money to host the event.

"I'll admit to you right away, I'm satisfied. I'd say mission accomplished," Coderre said at a news conference in Montreal Monday.

"Are there things to change? Probably."

Coderre vowed the race would take place next year and said he's already in discussions to add another race between the morning and late afternoon events.

The mayor admitted businesses near the temporary race track set up around Maison Radio-Canada suffered. That was especially true for bars and restaurants on Ontario Street, which had to remove their outdoor patios before and during the event and lost customers as a result.

"That was a last-minute mistake, and we're sorry," Coderre said.

Fred Cormier, who owns one of the restaurants on the street, Station Host Microbrasserie, said both the street and his restaurant were almost empty. 

Fred Cormier, the owner of Station Host Microbrasserie on Ontario Street, reinstalls his outdoor patio Monday after being forced to remove it for the Formula E event. He says he lost a lot of business. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

"The race [was] a couple of streets down south from us, and this sacrificed Ontario Street," Cormier said on CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Poissonerie La Mer on René Lévesque Boulevard, which was blocked off for the race, says it had 50 per cent less business than usual over the weekend.

"We just want this all to be over now," said Alex Meletakos, La Mer's marketing director. He said preparations for the race had been affecting foot traffic in the store for weeks before the event got underway.

When the electric car race finally happened, Meletakos said, thousands of the race's attendees invaded his parking lot, using it as a path to get to and from the event. 

"There were all kinds of people trying to use our bathrooms, and we're not set up for that," he said, adding a promise from the city to fence the shop's parking lot off never materialized.

"Had I known ... I would have set something up." 

While many restaurant and shop owners say the event cost them business, event organizer Evenko said 45,000 people attended the races. That's 15,000 fewer than Coderre said he anticipated in the spring. 

Evenko's vice-president, Jacques Aubé, conceded that number included a lot of free tickets, mostly given away through sponsorship deals. 

"The goal wasn't only to deliver a race, but to deliver an experience," Aubé said. 

Free wristbands

Abhay Ghatpande had purchased a $153 family pass, which gave him and his wife Sujata and their children, Ishir, 10, and Mihika, five, access to the site but not to the grandstands.

Ghatpande says he and his family and a bunch of other people had propped themselves up on concrete blocks near the fences surrounding the track so their children could catch a glimpse of the action.

He said 15 minutes before Sunday's 4 p.m. race, an event official came over and gave them all free wristbands for seats in the grandstand.

Abhay Ghatpande says he and his family — his son Ishir (second from left), wife Sujata and daughter Mihika — had general admission tickets but were given free wristbands to gain access to the stands. (Courtesy of Abhay Ghatpande)

"The stands were pretty much empty before that," Ghatpande said. "I think they wanted to fill up the stands, to some extent."

By race time, they were full, he said. 

Asked about the free wristbands, Aubé at first said, "that's not the information I have." He said there was only a crowd around the stands attempting to watch through the fences to hide from the sun, in the shade.

"We may have distributed some [wristbands], but not a lot," he said finally, when pressed by a reporter.

'Big success'

​Formula E founder Alejandro Agag said the experience, at least from a racing point of view, was a "big success, big success."

"Of the more than 30 races we've done across the world ... this was one of the best, if not the best," Agag said. "The level of organization and the work that was done here in Montreal was second to none."

He said the drivers told him it was the best Formula E circuit they had driven on.

Lucas Di Grassi of Brazil celebrates after winning the pole position in the Montreal Formula ePrix electric car race on Saturday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The chairperson of Montreal's public transit agency, Philippe Schnobb, and Simon Pillarella, who heads Montréal, c'est électrique!, the organization the city created to promote electric transit throughout the event, were at the conference.

Schnobb said it would be hard to count how many people took advantage of the free public transit offered by the STM during the weekend, but that buses and Metro lines were busy. 

He said the costs associated with free public transit would fall under the agency's promotional budget.

"People who may not usually take public transit were exposed to how efficient it is," he said. 

Costs spread over 3 years: Coderre

Coderre said the costs of the event, including the construction work that had to be done in preparation for it, would be spread out over three years. He said for 2017, the total is between $4 and $6 million.

"It's not an expense but an investment. It's all based on the long-term vision."

Charles Regimbal, a racing fan, said he "thoroughly enjoyed" the event. He had grandstands tickets, and he live-tweeted the races. 

"I was really excited to see ... how they would be able to make Montreal come alive by bringing it here," Regimbal said on Daybreak. "And I think they did just that."

Despite widespread criticism of the track's placement downtown, Regimbal said he doubts the track layout will be any different next year because "with the Formula E, once they settle on a track, they don't really change it."

And while Coderre maintained it would not have been possible to use the Gilles Villeneuve Formula One racetrack, located in nearby Parc Jean-Drapeau, Agag said the whole point of the electric car race was for it to be in a city. 

"It's the DNA of the Formula E ... because it brings the show to people," he said. 

Agag also addressed reports that Montreal was the only city to have to pay for the race, saying "the notion that Montreal is the only city to have [made] a financial contribution, it's absolute fantasy."

"I am not a charity. I don't know if I look like a charity, but I'm not," he said. 

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak