Indianapolis Motor Speedway ponders hotel, moving museum

November 10, 2008
Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials are in talks to move their Hall of Fame Museum from the interior of the oval to a spot just outside the south end of the track, an area that could also house a new Speedway hotel. An announcement could come as soon as early next year.

That move could fuel a flurry of commercial developments that Speedway town officials hope to start unveiling in the first quarter of 2009.

The museum move would be done in conjunction with the Speedway Redevelopment Commission's plans to revitalize the areas immediately south and west of the track and along Main Street in the town on the west edge of Indianapolis.

Speedway redevelopment officials want the museum and hotel to anchor an entertainment and retail district at the southwest corner of the track. The Redevelopment Commission's plans call for vacating parts of 16th Street and Georgetown Road to make it happen.

"At this point, with our hotel and museum, we're in serious discussions," said IMS Chief Operating Officer Joie Chitwood. "The hotel is a top priority. The museum now is in a great location, but who knows what the future holds. We're looking at all our options."

The new and expanded museum and Speedway hotel wouldn't be the only attractions in the area.

Scott Harris, who became executive director of the Speedway Redevelopment Commission when it was created in 2005, said he is in discussions with at least one other motorsports-related museum along with restaurants and other retail operators.

"We're moving forward aggressively and hope we'll have some announcements to make in the first part of 2009," said Harris, 58, a 10-year resident of Speedway who previously served as a consultant to medical practices. "The Speedway knows our time lines, and we hope they have an announcement some time in the spring also."

An announcement, Harris said, could come as the IMS celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2009.

Year-round attraction

If IMS and the redevelopment commission can work together to bring multiple attractions to the area outside the track, it would create a new visitor experience that could draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to Speedway each year—far beyond the month of May and during the Brickyard 400, said David Moroknek, president of MainGate Inc., a local maker and retailer of motorsports-related goods and apparel.

"If they did a museum or even an expanded hotel stand-alone, I don't know if it would work," said Moroknek, who served as senior director of marketing and consumer products for IMS from 1994 to 2003. "But if you do it as part of a whole redevelopment and tie the community in, I think it would be a big success."

Moving the museum from the track's infield to a prominent place near a jazzed-up entrance would lift the image of the facility and dramatically increase traffic there, said Tim Frost, president of Frost Motorsports, a Chicago-based motorsports business consultancy.

"It's about visibility, and right now the Speedway's museum doesn't have any," said Frost, who recently completed a study on motorsports museums. "Unless you're seeking it out, you'll never see it where it is on the interior of the track. I think moving it to a more prominent location and into an enhanced space would be a tremendous benefit to the Speedway."

Moroknek thinks moving it to a more prominent location could make it as much a destination for locals and visitors as The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Museum of Art or the Indianapolis Zoo. "It would create a central gathering place for people visiting the track," Moroknek said. "And I think that raises a lot of other development possibilities."

While the Speedway's collection of cars is impressive, Frost said it's in need of a makeover.

"When you look at what NASCAR is doing with their new Hall of Fame in Charlotte, it may be time for the Speedway to make a move," Frost said. "There's a difference between a museum and a car collection. In today's environment, people are looking for more interactivity."

The $160 million NASCAR Hall of Fame being built now will include a theater, a restaurant, and office and meeting space. The museum scheduled to open in early 2010 will have more than three times the IMS museum's 30,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Museums are usually modest profit centers for tracks and race series, Frost said, but the exposure is invaluable. The IMS museum draws 250,000 visitors annually, about one-third during the month of May.

"By moving this facility to the outside of the track and creating a central place of activity, you make this a year-round attraction," Frost said. "I think it becomes not only a regional and national draw, but an international draw."

The redevelopment commission's goal is to link the revitalized district, including the new IMS museum and other attractions, to Speedway's Main Street, Harris said. "We want that area to be like Broad Ripple or a Mass Avenue downtown."

IMS' Chitwood said the idea of creating a zone that draws people to the area year-round has fueled talk of a new hotel. The current Speedway-owned motel, renamed the Brickyard Crossing Inn in 1994, was built in 1963. It has 108 rooms and modest gathering areas, but few other amenities to attract visitors or corporate entertainers year-round.

Work about to begin

The larger project, dubbed the "Speed Zone," is starting to rev its engine. Key to its success is shifting 16th Street to the south, away from the track, to create a pedestrian zone. That's the area most likely to be the site of the new museum.

Planners also want to close Georgetown Road south of 25th Street to create a park and pedestrian promenade immediately west of the track. Two multi-lane roundabouts also are planned — one at the junction of Crawfordsville Road, 16th Street and Main Street, and one where an extended Holt Road would cross the new 16th Street.

The infrastructure changes, Harris said, are "fundamental aspects" of the project, because they reroute traffic to make the area pedestrian-friendly and help increase the visibility of Main Street businesses.

Harris said local officials are very close to obtaining 28 acres along Main Street from two property owners he would not identify.

Speedway town officials recently started appraising land for right-of-way acquisition. Some of that land is owned by IMS, which is cooperating on the project.

Harris said design and engineering work for the rerouting of 16th Street is 95-percent complete. Indianapolis-based American StructurePoint won that $1.6 million contract, part of the $30 million it will cost to move 16th Street.

Other parts of the project will be put out to bid in January or February.

"We think we'll be moving dirt sometime between February and April, and then I think you'll see a number of announcements to follow," Harris said.

The cost for the entire project, which has been estimated at $400 million to $500 million, should be more concrete in February, he said.

The town will pay for the proposed infrastructure changes — through a series of bonds paid off by revenue from the town's 350-acre tax increment financing district. The rest of the funding will come from public-private sources, Harris said.

By the Indianapolis 500's centennial celebration in 2011, Harris hopes the reconfigured road system, a new park beside the track, and improvements on Main Street will be complete.

Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis, said by making the area a destination with multiple attractions, the potential economic impact spreads far beyond Speedway.

"I think this project has a ton of potential, and could possibly double the traffic to the Speedway's museum, and in turn provide fuel for other developments," DeGaris said. "That's why this project makes so much sense."
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