IUPUI again running in the fast lane: Track facility emerges nationally after long absence

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For its first 15 years after opening in 1982, the Michael A. Carroll Track & Field Stadium on the IUPUI campus hosted a major national or international trackand-field event almost annually.

For the last decade, it’s been primarily relegated to charity events and local grade-school championships.

But with the first high-profile competition at the track since 1997 scheduled for this month, the venue is poised for rebirth. From June 21-25, it will host the U.S. National Championships-an event organizers hope attracts 30,000 spectators.

“That’s a lofty goal, but I think it’s attainable,” said Bob Kennedy, retired world-class distance runner and co-chairman of the local organizing committee hosting this year’s championships.

The stadium’s low point came when the Indiana High School Athletic Association yanked the state high school championships after the 2003 season after 22-years.

The IHSAA shifted its championships to Indiana University in Bloomington, leaving many sports marketers and civic leaders wondering why a venue that had been considered one of the finest in track and field was going unused for big-time events.

Some believe the facility had fallen into disrepair, but Julie McKenney, director of IUPUI’s Natatorium and track-and-field complex since 1992, said that’s not true.

The Italian-imported surface and surrounding infrastructure received a $1.7 million overhaul in the late 1990s, said John Short, IUPUI assistant vice chancellor. More upgrades came this year, and Short said university officials are considering other improvements, including a life-like artificial turf surface for the infield. That could help attract national soccer and lacrosse competitions.

With the help of the Indiana Sports Corp. and Indianapolis-based USA Track & Field, the sport’s governing body, IUPUI was able to muscle back into the spotlight and win the track championships, beating out bids from Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Columbus, Ohio, among others.

“It’s difficult to say what happened, but a local bid for the event just never came together since 1997,” Kennedy said. “The Indiana Sports Corp.’s involvement working with IUPUI and USA Track & Field was key.”

Kennedy, who ran the 5,000 meters in the 1997 national championships in Indianapolis, is more intent on focusing on the future than deciphering the past. He thinks this year’s event will lead to the track’s again hosting a litany of big-time meets.

“Along with Eugene, Ore., and Sacramento, the track here is among the top three in the country,” Kennedy said. “Now we have the organizational structure we need to bid on, organize and market these types of events.”

With a $500,000 to $600,000 budget, the meet is considered low-risk with high payoff possibilities. USATF is showing full confidence in local organizers, and in a rare move has already awarded Indianapolis the 2007 National Championships-leading into an Olympic year.

The facility’s rebirth began last year when it hosted the Junior Olympic Championships. Though it isn’t nearly as high profile as this year’s meet, the Junior Olympics draws more than 6,500 athletes, USATF’s largest participant event.

USATF CEO Craig Masback said the series of upcoming major track meets will bring the facility back to prominence.

“Some of these athletes have never competed here before, and once they do, I think that could generate a lot of interest,” Masback said.

Attendance for the event, along with local press coverage and the national TV broadcast package, is proving attractive to corporate partners and sponsors, Kennedy said. CBS will broadcast select competitions live over the June 24-25 weekend.

Already, the ISC has sold more than 40 corporate ticket packages, at $500 each. ISC has also helped ink more than 25 corporate sponsors. ISC officials are confident the event will be break-even or profitable-and that the economic impact will be widespread.

“Studies show us there will be $2.5 [million] to $3 million in direct spending to hotels, restaurants and transportation providers in this city,” said Susan Williams, ISC president. “It’s also nice to

have diversity to show we’re about more

than basketball and [auto] racing.”

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