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Speedway businesses eye gains from IMS upgrade

February 11, 2013
Grand Am race at IMS

As state Sen. Michael Young, R-Speedway, prepared to file a bill Monday to divert state tax revenue to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, nearby businesses were pondering how facility improvements could boost commerce in the town of 12,000 residents.

The rule of thumb is “anything that could help Indianapolis Motor Speedway will help local business,” said Connie Harris, executive director of the Speedway Chamber of Commerce.

Young’s bill would create a so-called Indiana Motorsports Investment District, capturing a portion of state sales, income and corporate taxes in and around the Speedway. The funds then would be invested as a portion of least $70 million in capital improvements at the facility. IMS would fund the remainder of the improvements.

These projects could include high-definition video boards, upgrades to seats and restrooms, structural renovations to the stands, and installing lights for night events.

Harris is intrigued by the latter, making possible evening events that could draw fans reluctant to sit in sweltering stands during typical day races.

Events added by IMS in recent years, such as the MotoGP motorcycle race, don’t draw as many fans as the Indianapolis 500 or the Brickyard 400. But they have an economic benefit to the community nevertheless, Harris said.

In 2011, the MotoGP drew 136,184 people over the three-day event—a fraction of the nearly 300,000 spectators estimated to attend the Indianapolis 500. But MotoGP “draws nice crowds,” Harris said. “Lights would open up a whole new realm of possibilities.”

Speculation as to what the Speedway would add as the result of facility improvements range from new races to concert events.
 
However, “our core business is auto racing. It will remain our core business,” said IMS spokesman Doug Boles.

IMS officials have been exploring the idea of installing lighting in part to extend races begun during the day but delayed because of inclement weather, Boles said.

Lighting also would allow for longer events, such as 24-hour endurance races. Such opportunities will be identified as part of a long-term master plan for the facility still underway, Boles added.

IMS officials on Feb. 8 announced Young’s intent to file the bill to create the investment district.

The request for government assistance marks a departure for the Hulman family, the longtime owners of the facility,  which historically has not asked for subsidies, even as the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts won large government financing packages to build their venues.

IMS officials emphasized the motorsports investment district would not affect the local school funding formula, because it would not be funded through property taxes collections.

The U.S. Justice Department and the IMS reached a settlement recently under which the Speedway agreed to make millions of dollars in improvements to make the facility more accessible to the handicapped

The Speedway Redevelopment Commission in recent years has been working on plans to revitalize several blocks along Main Street by the Speedway, including removing industrial blight and attracting new businesses.

Among the successes has been a new $2.7 million headquarters for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing on Main Street.

The commission also said it intends to acquire the International Village apartment complex, on the northwest end of Speedway, for redevelopment.

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