Indianapolis Motor Speedway hits brakes on Turn 2 hotel project

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has pumped the brakes on discussions to build a hotel in Turn 2 with panoramic views of the track.

IMS officials had been exploring the possibility of building a 125-room hotel in Turn 2 and last March had Browning Investments Inc. put out a request for proposals. But further discussions about the idea led to more questions than answers.

“I would never say never, but I don’t see it happening in the next handful of years,” Speedway President Doug Boles told IBJ this week. 

A new hotel would bring overnight lodging back to the track, and some racing fans say it's badly needed. IMS in 2009 tore down the aging Indianapolis Speedway Motel that was outside the Turn 2 stands but did not overlook the track.

Two primary issues, Boles explained, caused IMS officials to pull the plug on the proposed hotel project. 

First, he said Speedway officials didn’t want to disrupt the existing Turn 2 suites, which meant it would be difficult to give the hotel the view and track access desired.

“These seats and suites sell really well where you’d probably have to put it. These suites are sold out,” Boles said. "You’d have to remove that and build new. These suites are a different cultural experience than our suites anywhere else [at the track].”

Boles pointed out that the suites can essentially be used as an apartment. They’re open year-round and can be customized with things like showers and bedrooms.

“If you rebuild these suites and give people another experience, I don’t know that you sell them,” Boles said.

Boles did leave a slight chance the project could be revived, though he stressed there’s no discussion of giving the idea any gas right now.

“In order for the hotel to work, it had to have some ability to see the race track and … It’s a tough one,” he said. “So right now, we just sort of parked it. Even if we announced it now, I think it would be a 2018 project. Other than the responses to our RFP, we haven’t moved it any farther.”

The second big issue is the unanswered question of demand. He said that’s one big question respondents to the RFP could not definitively answer.

“This side of town and certainly our event could benefit from a hotel around event time,” Boles said. “The question is longer term, how does it work?”

Mark Eble, Midwest regional vice president for San Francisco-based PKF Hospitality, said that question is a perplexing one.

While Eble is somewhat bullish on the idea of a hotel in the Speedway’s Turn 2, he’s less optimistic a Speedway hotel away from the track could make it.

“It is a challenging location with respect to non-race related business,” Eble said. “The hotels at the old airport location are reported to be struggling. Anyone who wants to stay in the area would stay at the airport.”

Eble said any hotel in the area would have to draw a mix of leisure, group and corporate business.

While Eble thinks a hotel connected to and overlooking the track could draw a wide range of group business—from car clubs to racing fan groups—year-round he thinks a hotel not affiliated with the track could have much more difficulty filling its rooms throughout the year.

Two developers, however, are prepared to roll the dice, teaming to build a $50 million mixed-use project adjacent to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that would anchor the town’s revitalized Main Street.

Loftus Robinson and Scannell Properties expect to start construction in the summer on the five-story building and finish in 2018. Plans call for 150 apartments, 10 condominiums, a 120-room hotel, 15,000 square feet of retail, and a 500-space parking garage.

The project is set to be constructed on 3.4 acres the developers are buying from the town at the southeast corner of the roundabout near the front door of the Speedway. The roundabout opened in November 2014 and links Crawfordsville Road and East 16th Street to Main Street, while Georgetown Road dead ends before reaching the roundabout.

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