Town of Speedway in midst of a major makeoverSRC Member
By Raygan Swan
INDIANAPOLIS — If you’re at all familiar with the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you know the aesthetics surrounding the world-class facility don’t exactly match the track’s touted prestige.
Within the grandstands of the famed venue, the signage is subtle yet effective and careful not to take away from the beautifully manicured grounds. Maintenance workers are watchful for litterbugs and vendors keep clean storefronts.
It’s hard to believe that in the town of Speedway, Ind., home of the esteemed edifice, such a stark contrast exists just beyond the front doorstep of IMS.
To say the area leaves something to be desired is an understatement. Pawnshops and cigarette outlets are plenty and you’re not hard pressed to find a number of gentlemen’s clubs, but if you can look through the trailer park and beyond the Wild Cheri Show Club and see past the inundation of beer and bar advertisements blanketing the area of Georgetown Road and 16th Street, eventually you might find the real town of Speedway.
“On Main Street,” said Scott Harris, executive director of the Speedway Redevelopment Commission.
It was on this street about 40 years ago that the town enjoyed the vibrancy of a strong manufacturing community home to Allison Transmission and Praxair. It offered great schools and a low crime rate originally designed to be an automotive testing ground, a city of the future if you will.
Nearly 100 hundred years ago, four automotive pioneers designed the race track and began the process of defining a community around the emerging automobile industry. Carl Fisher, James Allison, Frank Wheeler and Arthur Newby were the innovative minds to form the town of Speedway.
The town thrived, however, the automotive manufacturing field declined during the 1970s and 1980s and so did Speedway’s traditional economic base.
On top of that, the town of Speedway became lost in the shadows of big city Indianapolis just five miles west of the niche town.
“The reality is prior to 2005, I don’t think we paid attention,” Harris said. “I’m just not sure people paid attention and now your first impression driving on 16th Street it that Speedway is somewhat of a blighted area.”
But not for long, as the town of Speedway — through a change is state legislature in 2006 freeing up millions of TIF (Tax Increment Financing) dollars from major stakeholders like IMS, — is in the midst of a major makeover.
“We have a revenue stream of several million dollars a year right now,” Harris said.
More important, the Wild Cheri will no longer be the first business to greet race fans coming to the Brickyard 400. This time next year, it will be gone.
“I’m not coming back,” joked Ryan Newman, a Hoosier native and Stewart-Haas Racing driver familiar with Speedway’s colorful culture. “How many A-frame buildings do you still see in existence today?”
In all seriousness, Newman supports any and all redevelopment efforts that will take the town, the town he frequented as a young boy, back to its original state.
“I don’t want shag carpet or anything, but it was a simpler life then,” Newman said. “I tend to like the way it was not the way it is.”
That’s the track Speedway city planners are racing on these days.
Plans include major road changes that include vacating Georgetown Road between 16th and 25th streets and filling the space with a linear pedestrian park. And then there’s completely overhauling Main Street, which has already begun with ornamental street signs and lamp posts as well as new infrastructure and sidewalks.
“The road changes would essentially be to construct a three legged roundabout with Crawfordsville, Main and 16th being the legs,” Harris said. “Vacate Georgetown Road and intersect 16th Street from the west into Main Street.”
To have a major racing facility so close to busy thoroughfares is unheard of today, Harris added. For safety reasons, these roads need to be moved.
“No one today would build a major racing attraction with a road 17 feet away from the grandstands,” Harris added.
In total, the Speedway Redevelopment Commission will focus on at least 700 acres of property to be converted into prime office, retail and entertainment development, positioning Speedway as a year-round tourist destination.
“We have an opportunity, with the support of our stakeholders including Indianapolis Motor Speedway, to really redefine and remake this town,” Harris said.
Jeff Belskus, president and CEO of IMS, said the project will enhance NASCAR fans’ race weekend experience for years to come.
“We like the idea of a beautification project outside our front door if you will,” he said. “And while we recognize all businesses have the right to exist whether we support them or not, we certainly like the idea of changing the face of Speedway. We want to have the most inviting front door as possible.”
The proposal is grand and to look at the engineer’s mast plan and renderings you might think it would take decades to complete.
“We realize it took the town of Speedway 30 years to get the way it is now and it’s not going to change in two or four years,” Harris said. “We like to say the change is going to be a marathon not a sprint race.”
Still, race fans can expect significant progress and improvements by 2011.
Main Street is set to be the center of a vibrant, thriving and appealing downtown. It is also the corner stone of the “Speed Zone” project and will be the first ripple in the revitalization pond to transform the community surrounding the track.
The recent announcement that Dallara will headquarter on Main Street to manufacturer and assemble its new chassis for the 2012 IndyCar Series season is a major feather in the cap for the town.
Harris hopes the excitement will catch on and spread to NASCAR teams and business looking to be more centrally located.
“The invitation has been extended, yes,” he said. “But regardless of who makes the move and who doesn’t the change is coming. We are recapturing the heritage that was once here 100 years ago.”