Q&A: Scott Harris, outgoing Speedway redevelopment guru

Scott Harris will step down at the end of December as executive director of the Speedway Redevelopment Commission. During his more than 10 years of service to the group, which was founded in 2005, Harris, 65, has witnessed firsthand the progress Speedway has made to remake its Main Street. He sat down recently with IBJ to discuss his tenure.

What led Speedway to undertake an initiative as large as the Main Street project?

Scott Harris Speedway mugScott Harris

This is an old, vibrant community that was founded by the people who founded the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and our Main Street kind of became like lots of old main streets: lots of vacant buildings; old, old structures with a lot of vacant property. I like to tell people I lived in Speedway four years before I knew there was a Main Street. So there have been various initiatives by town leadership and some individuals to focus on redevelopment of this area, but we really didn’t have the tools.

Then the state Legislature in 2005 allowed excluded cities to appoint their own redevelopment commissions. Speedway did one. When the commission was formed we were directed to focus on the Main Street area between Allison Transmission and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Though that was just 10 years ago, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?

It’s been 10 years, but during that time you have to do lots of planning, you have to define financing. In reality, we only started [$10 million in streetscape] improvements to Main Street in December 2009. And they were finished in May of 2011. So the structures you’ve seen, the landscape changes, it’s been four or five years. And I think we can say that it’s been a pretty dramatic change.

What was the first company the town lured to Main Street?

The first really new one was the [$7 million] Dallara IndyCar factory. When we announced this project in 2011, we really called it our Nordstrom. It’s kind of like the centerpiece. Because of this and because it’s such a dramatic, eye-catching structure, it kind of set the stage for us being able to do some other things. A lot of buildings have followed that, and we’ve got a lot under construction now.

What are some of the other big projects?

If you start at 10th and Main, Big Woods, which is based out of Nashville, Indiana, they’re in the process of building a 7,000-to-8,000-square-foot restaurant. The walls are up on [Sarah Fisher’s 60,000-square-foot] Speedway Indoor Karting. East of Daredevil [Brewing Co.], we’ll see dirt start to move within the next couple of months on the [50,000-square-foot] production facility for OMR, which is a big, international automotive components manufacturing group. This is their first North American location. They have locations in Brazil, India and China and Italy. Juncos Racing will be built east of there. We’re working through the final elements of developing the southeast corner of the roundabout [at 16th and Main], and we hope to make that announcement by the holidays. And it will be big for Speedway.
How have the improvements and projects been financed?

Every one of them has been some sort of public-private partnership. We bought lots of land, because we wanted to control what happened. We didn’t want an investor to come in and just hold it. So we demolished buildings. We did lots of environmental cleanup. Everything that’s been built, we know what it’s going to look like, what’s going to happen and when it’s going to get built. So it puts us in control of knowing what’s happening.    

What are some of the challenges the commission has faced?

Financing is always a challenge, especially for a small community of 12,000 to finance such big projects. This is an old, industrial area, so we’ve had environmental challenges all along.

How close is the town to finishing its improvements?

I don’t know that there’s a distinct finish. Early on, people thought we were going too fast. Now that we’ve had some success, "can you go faster?" A lot of the things on Main Street, almost all of our property, will be under contract within the next four or five months. There are obviously some old buildings on the west side of Main Street that need some help. Our long-term plan is to have a linear park. We’re working with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; we hope to see that happen in the next few years Then we realize we have a tremendous gateway on the west side of town, so we’ve been focused on that. It’s a continuing process, but there’s definitely another five to 10 years of work.

What next for you?

I’m not retiring, but I’ve been doing this for 10-1/2 years. I was on the telephone with a member of the City-County Council and we were kind of talking. I said the city of Indianapolis went through a handful of economic development people while I’ve been here.●

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