Speedway on track to develop tourism year-round

November 17, 2008
As the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway approaches, the town of Speedway, at long last, is making an aggressive play to turn the world-famous oval into an economic engine that runs year-round.

Better late than never.

In hindsight, it's hard to fathom why the town took so long to press the advantage of having in its midst a racetrack that hosts two of the best-attended single-day sporting events in the world. What's important now is that the wheels are turning and the Speedway Redevelopment Commission is working with IMS brass on a plan that could make tourism the biggest industry in the awakening west-side town.

As reported in IBJ last week, the two parties are negotiating to move the Hall of Fame museum from the track infield to a spot south of the track along a relocated 16th Street. IMS officials also hope to develop a flagship hotel to replace the 45-year-old Brickyard Crossing Inn.

Both projects would add fuel to the redevelopment commission's broader plan to create a retail and entertainment district to the south and west of the racetrack and along Speedway's Main Street, which for decades has seen limited economic activity despite the presence of the racing behemoth a block away.

The so-called Speed Zone is estimated to cost up to $500 million in public and private funds, and the cost could shoot higher once more is known about exactly what will be built. The plan requires significant reinvestment in infrastructure, including relocating 16th Street to the south, closing Georgetown Road south of 25th Street to create a pedestrian zone, and constructing two multilane roundabouts.

Among the funding mechanisms expected to contribute to the project is a 350-acre tax-increment financing district. Growth in property tax revenue in the district will be set aside to repay bonds the town sells to fund the infrastructure work.

Some might question if it's appropriate for the town of Speedway to commit taxpayer money to such an expensive project.

The answer is yes, for a couple of reasons.

We've seen over the course of the last 50 years what happens if there's no public investment: empty storefronts on Main Street and underdeveloped real estate across the street from the track. Though fans flood into Speedway for the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400, the rest of the year the town's namesake track might best be described as the greatest spectacle in missed economic opportunity.

And there's this: The IMS is self-sustaining. Unlike most other professional sports ventures, it doesn't need or ask for public handouts.

This is a case of the town of Speedway's finally investing in itself. The redevelopment commission has identified the prize, and IMS seems to be along for the ride. We hope neither side lets up until they cross the finish line.

To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.
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