IMS Thrives, Town Struggles

IMS Thrives, Town Struggles

John Ketzenberger
Indianapolis Star
May 26, 2009

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has persevered for a century. The venerable Brickyard has weathered cancellations during world wars, open-wheel racing civil wars and even economic tribulation.

It remains the vibrant home to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

But the town that was incorporated 17 years after millions of bricks were laid is not thriving. Even the racing industry has passed it by for far-off places like North Carolina, or even those just up the road like Brownsburg.

“I don’t think it’s the economy,” resident Don Katterhenry said. “The town’s business has been going down for years.”

What the thousands of race fans milling about 16th Street and Georgetown Road may not realize is Speedway’s residents are fighting among themselves. At issue: whether the family-owned business that is IMS can expand to the south and the west at the expense of other family-owned businesses.

Imagine that 16th Street would be moved to the south, making way for a fancy new entrance to the track and a new hotel. Then imagine Georgetown Road closed, giving the IMS room for growth to the west.

Finally, take a look at Main Street and think of refurbished buildings on the west side and new ones to the east, rejuvenating the town’s thoroughfare, a nod to the original notion that industry would be to the east while retail and residential would be to the west.

What you don’t have to imagine is the tension that such an expansion causes. Over the past five years, Speedway’s Town Council and Redevelopment Commission have bought dozens of land parcels for the project. But residents across Georgetown Road are balking, and so are a few businesses to the south.

“There’s not much going on that people can see, so they wonder what’s happening,” said resident Ed Frazier, a former Town Council member.

That breeds fear that the government will condemn the land it wants to take. And it puts the image-conscious IMS management on the defensive. IMS President Joie Chitwood has made it clear the track doesn’t want to bully hesitant landowners.

“The Speedway is an important part of the community,” Katterhenry said. “They do all these expansions, and they don’t ask for tax breaks or anything.”

The track’s growth is about the only thing expanding Speedway’s tax base, and Katterhenry worries that his neighborhood at 13th Street and Winton Avenue will suffer as a result. “Used to be you’d barely get the ‘for sale’ sign in the ground, and a house would sell,” he said.

Not anymore. If anything, Speedway town officials need to be more aggressive. When National Hot Rod Association teams relocated to the area, they didn’t consider Speedway. Most Indy Racing League teams are based in office parks outside the town where oval racing was born.
“Redevelopment doesn’t happen overnight,” Frazier said.

It better happen sooner than later if the town’s going to be more than just a host to races.

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