New lights only the beginning for Brickyard changes

April 27, 2013
Grand Am race at IMS

New Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles has grand plans for Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Less than five months after taking over for the company that operates the racetrack, he already plans to install lights around the 2-1/2-mile oval, make a bevy of major upgrades, and attract and/or launch new events.

“Right now, we’re looking at everything,” Miles said. “Our whole goal is to make this facility even better than it is now. And if we can do that, I’m completely confident we can bring more people to the facility on an annual basis.”

Read here about Visit Indy weaving the Speedway into its marketing campaign.

That’s good news for local tourism and hospitality-related businesses, including hotels, restaurants and other attractions.

“The Speedway is the type and size of operation that, whatever it does, it affects everyone else in the hospitality industry here,” said Brian Comes, Hyatt Regency general manager and Greater Indianapolis Hotel and Lodging Association president.

Miles and his IMS staff are seeking $100 million from the state to help fund improvements at the track.

At press time Indiana lawmakers were mulling whether to aid IMS. House Speaker Brian Bosma told IBJ on April 24 that lawmakers were near resolution on a bill that would grant the assistance IMS officials sought.

Read an interview with Speedway Redevelopment Commission Director Scott Harris here.

The plan would create a motorsports investment district to collect existing state sales, income and corporate taxes generated in an area that includes the Speedway to help pay for the improvements.

The collected taxes would raise $5 million a year that the state would contribute to help pay off bonds for the improvements over 20 years. The Speedway would contribute $2 million annually for improvements.

Miles is confident the improvements would bring in enough additional tax money—through greater activity and attendance at the track—to offset much, if not all, of the state’s investment.

Although IMS officials don’t disclose attendance for their events, attendance for the Indianapolis 500 is estimated at 300,000, the Brickyard 400 has settled at around 130,000 in recent years, and the MotoGP event brings in about 65,000.

The races, along with the Speedway’s museum and year-round track tours and two-seater rides, attract 200,000 non-Hoosiers annually, Miles said.

Miles is still working on details for all his plans, but said the idea is to make the facility more attractive to fans, and even to attract a broader spectrum of events, which could diversify the audience.

“Everything we’ve heard from Mark and his staff is really good for the local economy in general, but especially the tourism and convention business here,” said Leonard Hoops, CEO of Visit Indy, the city’s tourism marketing arm.

One of the biggest immediate impacts could come from the installation of lights—which IMS officials said they’d like to have done within the next two years.

If the NASCAR race held at the track is moved to a night race, that could increase the number of hotel-room sales related to the event, local tourism officials said.

People from out of town probably wouldn’t want to drive home after a night race, Hoops said, but he added that it’s difficult to say how it would affect their travel habits the day before or of the event.

“If the event is at night, with our central location, I could possibly see some people driving in the day of the race as opposed to the night before,” Hoops said. “We’d hope visitors would come in for a couple of nights to enjoy the city and all we have here, but you never know.”

Possibly even more alluring to hotel and restaurant operators is Miles’ ambitions to bring in more events to the track at 16th Street and Georgetown Road.

Speedway officials said they’d be willing to look at bringing in events ranging from other races to concerts. Several years ago, IMS officials even considered an airplane race.

The impact of any new events might depend on what types of events Miles and his staff pursue.

“Something like a concert or another local or regional type of event isn’t going to have a serious economic impact—not on the hospitality industry,” Hoops said. “Those events draw people in for a few hours, they spend most of their time and money at the venue, then they go home.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of new events at the Speedway,” Hoops added. “But it has to be a unique event to Indianapolis and the region to draw in out-of-town visitors and maximize the impact. Those are the types of events that bring people here overnight and that’s where the economic impact really starts to add up.”

Among the most tantalizing possibilities is a suggestion from The Boston Consulting Group, a firm hired by Hulman & Co. to evaluate the IndyCar Series. The BCG recommended a three-race post-season playoff, culminating in a race on the Speedway’s 2.6-mile road course.

The IMS’ road course was completed in 2000 for Formula One, and has since been used for motorcycle and sports-car races, but never an IndyCar event.

Miles emphasized that nothing has been decided about that potential event. IndyCar team owners, drivers and fans are split over whether the Speedway’s serpentine road course would make a good venue for the series.

If Miles has definitive plans for adding specific events, he’s held them close to the vest.

“It’s all about what the opportunity is and what it adds,” Miles said.

One thing is certain. Miles, a former CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour, has no plans to stand pat.

“All the events [at the track] are solid and profitable, but we’d like to see significant growth,” Miles said. “Those of us who have grown up in Indianapolis have an understanding of what events out there can be. And the events out there have not completely met their potential.”•


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