Editorial: Unbridled return of the Indy 500 revs region’s economic engines

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The Indianapolis 500 continued to build on its post-pandemic glory on Sunday, topping last year’s attendance with the largest crowd since the 100th running in 2016 and giving the local economy its usual boost.

While last year marked the first return to full capacity for the race since the pandemic struck in 2020, this year seemed to offer a full embrace of a return to normalcy sans masks and personal precautions for most of the spectators crowding the stands.

It was a welcome renewal of the unbridled joy of May in Indianapolis and a reminder of just how much the Indy 500 means to auto racing and how it elevates the state’s visibility and its economic prospects.

In 2020, the delayed running of the Indy 500 without spectators at the pandemic’s height was a brutal hit to the city’s hospitality industry and the many restaurants and businesses that cater to race fans. As hotel managers told IBJ last week, some properties rely on a great race weekend to help carry them through the year.

Having the race at 40% capacity in 2021 was no great shakes, either. And the return to full capacity in 2022 still came amid some lingering concerns about COVID-19 and the reliability of air travel for out-of-state race fans.

The largely uninhibited enthu-siasm for this year’s race brought attendance of at least 330,000—more than last year and the second-largest crowd in more than two decades, NBC Sports reported.

Hotel occupancy also was back on track heading into race weekend, with some hotels reporting increased demand and hospitality officials predicting numbers that would match or surpass last year’s. Memorial Day weekend air travel at Indianapolis International Airport was also up 19% from a year ago.

Television viewership was up 2%. While still shy of 5 million viewers, the event captured a 13% share of all homes where television was being watched on Sunday afternoon—the highest share since 2008.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. took full advantage of enthusiasm for the race by rolling out the red carpet for business leaders potentially interested in two economic development “mega-sites”—the 11,000-acre LEAP district in Lebanon, where Eli Lilly and Co. is investing $3.7 billion, and the 100-acre former General Motors stamping plant, where Elanco Animal Health is building its $150 million headquarters.

And who can say how many business deals were cut in the racetrack’s suites as local business leaders entertained clients?

The bottom line is, the Indy 500 revs all economic motors in central Indiana, and it feels as good as the Memorial Day weekend sun to have it humming at full force.

The challenge now is to keep up the economic momentum to fully restore the city’s vitality downtown and elsewhere.•


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