The big news this week of the offseason is a decision by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to request state aid for funding modernization improvements at the 104-year-old facility. Long time admirers of the track and its ownership have been proud of the fact that IMS says it has never, ever accepted any sort of public money for anything at IMS. Presumably IMS did not want to become beholden on anyone other than themselves. They even turned down $25 million dollars from the state a few years ago to keep Formula One at the track.
In this time and place, however, things are different. Hell has frozen over. IMS is desperately in need of improvement. This need has become profound since Tony George, the last philosophical link to Tony Hulman, was forced out. Those who succeeded George have allowed the type of quality maintenance that was standard in the past to become an afterthought today. Throughout the facility degeneration is obvious, from a museum parking lot that is falling apart to foot bridges on IMS land that are literally rotting away to now antique scoring and video structures that are relentlessly rusting away.
Add to that a ruling that IMS is woefully deficient in adherence to ADA standards, and they are looking at expenditures in the hundreds of millions. Mandatory improvements must be made, and there is no choice.
Old timers may have problems with this change in philosophy, and it is easy to understand why. How much money are we talking about? Essentially it is a $100 million bond, and IMS is on the hook for $2 million annually. The state contributes $5 million annually, property taxes will not be used, and presumably no new taxes will be assessed.
The expenditure is couched in phrases such as ‘Indiana Motorsports Investment District.’ It is actually a smart idea, and hopefully the money will not be limited to inside the tunnels. Three of the four sides around the track contain neighborhoods that have either become ghettos or dilapidated, economically distressed and/or vacant properties. 38th Street near the track is a ghost town, and the once vibrant Lafayette Square Mall is now nothing more than shells of vacant and long departed anchors. Folks usually do not go there unless they are armed. One of the last 38th Street holdouts, Honda West, is moving to Fishers once spring rolls around.
Speedway redevelopment is going better than expected, but that sort of gentrification is absolutely essential for miles around the track to make it the showplace envisioned. Justification for such funding is actually very easy. Two years ago the Fiscal Times reported a $336 million economic impact annually for Indiana from the 500 alone. That is greater than either the Daytona 500 or the Super Bowl, according to Strategic Media Worldwide. Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly reported in 2011 that Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 contribute more than $727 million to Indiana’s economy. Annually IMS contributes north of one billion dollars of economic impact to the state and countless jobs that pay more than the average. The $336 million for the 500 is more than four times the $104 million economic of the Indianapolis Colts, according to statistics from Purdue University. Two Colts stadiums and Conseco were both almost entirely financed using public money, and that is the norm instead of the exception nationwide.
Predictably, howls of protest will be heard from those whose mission in life seems to be portraying the institution that made the entire sport possible as destitute and hypocritical. That will not really change the ignorance, immaturity or outright stupidity that typifies the obsessed, lunatic railing of such gadflies.
It will be interesting watching the metamorphosis of the grand old facility. From a practical standpoint and given attendance challenges, a really nice suggestion might be to work toward accommodation of the average sized racing fan, which is to say make the seats wider and deeper.
Let us hope the money is spent wisely and with the continuous renewal theme that stretched from Tony Hulman to Tony George.