Thursday, March 5, 2009

Speedway Redevelopment Threatens to Run Over Residents

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting about the redevelopment plans in Speedway. The room was filled with residents outraged over the $500 million plan to redevelop the area around the world famous Indianapolis 500 racetrack, plans which will take away many home and successful business. The plan is to make a pedestrian-only racing area to the south and west of the race track which allow for racing type attractions in those areas twelve months out of the year.

Chip Cutter or the Indianapolis Business Journal describes:

The plan, which involves 350 acres south of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has become the issue in town at a time when a certain race usually dominates conversations. At the cozy Charlie Brown's Pancake and Steak House on Main Street, patrons mull over the project in-between forkfuls of the diner's signature breakfast items. "It's all they talk about anymore," said longtime waitress Suzi Bowes.

The chatter centers on the Speedway Redevelopment Commission and its project, dubbed the "Speed Zone." It calls for new roads, parks, retail, restaurants and entertainment attractions to spruce up the aging Main Street business district and the surrounding neighborhoods.

"The area needs to be redeveloped," said Scott Harris, executive director of the redevelopment commission established in 2005. "Its time has come."

But the plan has ignited controversy, fueling heated town meetings and allegations that developers simply aren't listening to residents.

"They don't care what we have to say," said JoEllen Dotlich, who owns a nearly 50-acre industrial park at 4400 W. 10th St. with her husband. "It just gets to the point where a lot of people are giving up and I just can't give up."

Dotlich's property is one of 38 that could be acquired by the commission to make room for a rerouted 16th Street. Officials want to shift the road south, away from the track, to create a pedestrian zone near the racetrack.

The commission released a property allocation list in mid-April and said it would resort to eminent domain if it could not work out agreements with property owners.

Planners also want to close Georgetown Road south of 25th Street to create a park and pedestrian promenade beside the track. Traffic would be diverted to Lynhurst Drive. Two multi-lane roundabouts also are planned-one at the junction of Crawfordsville Road, 16th Street and Main Street, and one where an extended Holt Road would cross the new 16th Street.

These infrastructure changes, Harris said, are "fundamental aspects" of the project, because they reroute traffic and help increase the visibility of Main Street businesses. Moving the roads also creates a campus atmosphere around the racetrack.


The Speed Zone project calls for widening Main Street, building an interactive "racing wall of fame" in front of the Praxair plant that lines the east side of the thoroughfare, and adding mixed-use retail and condominium space on both sides of the street.

In addition to closing Georgetown Road, the plan is to close other streets as well, a fact that doesn't sit well with residents. The residents have been warned that if they do not sell, they will be faced with having their homes and businesses taken through eminent domain.

The trouble with using eminent domain is that it appears that its major purpose is to give Mary George the owner of the racetrack control over area outside the racetrack so that revenue can be captured. Under eminent domain public property can only be taken for a public purpose. If a court finds that residents property for the purpose of allowing a private businesswoman like Mary George to increase the track's income with additional off-track activities, such a taking might not stand up in court. Further, if roads are closed off in advance of the taking to force residents to sell, those closing the roads might end up in court on an inverse condemnation action which could challenge the purpose of the closings.

I am not at all convinced that the racing theme park idea where the Town of Speedway is a travel destination 12 months a year is going to work. As a resident of the northwest side, I've always lived just a few miles from the track. I just don't see people traveling to Sppedway to participate in the racing theme park, when they are not there for a crace. As one resident described it, it seems like they are operating on the philosophy of "Build it and they will come." One wonders if they did any kind of marketing study on the racing theme park proposal.

The residents who gathered at the meeting were not opposed to redevelopment. They were opposed to the "how" it was being done. The politicians set up an organization called the Speedway Redevelopment Commission to do the dirty work. The SRC gets filled by individuals with conflicts of interest, people who will profit directly or indirectly from the development. They make decisions about how things are going to be done and then have a "dog and pony show," public meetings where they pretend to listen to the concerns of residents and ideas for changes to their plan. All the time, the decision has already been made. Gee where have we seen this before? It is happening all over the county. Exhibit A here in Indianapolis is the Capital Improvement Board, which, although deeply in the red, made the decision, apparently behind closed doors, to give the Pacers an additional $15 million dollars before negotiations even started. The CIB is filled with people who have conflicts of interest and the President of the CIB, Bob Grand, represents the Simons who own the Pacers.

What I found most disturbing about the meeting is the discussion about how all the politicians turned their backs on these fine residents who are having their lives turned upside down by the project. Many of these politicians, who are ignoring those Speedway residents, are in receipt of contributions from the very developers who will make money off the project. While some of the politicians might truly find the project worthy, at the very least they should listen and respond to the concerns of these folks. Is that too much too ask of our elected officials?


Patriot Paul said...

These people are being treated like cattle to be scattered across the range. Last night gave a human face to the trama. When these residents and business tell their horror stories of intimidation, misrepresentation, and censorship of current businesses for not towing the line of the SRC, it begs for further investigation.

M Theory said...

It's time you name these politicians by name so the wider community can learn about them.

Zappatista said...

I agree with your argument to some extent....but, when has the George Family EVER asked for a dime from the tax payers of Indiana? Would that be never? I don't think it's fair to put them in the same breath (yes, I understand you are speaking of the redevelopment committee) as the CIB. How much money does the Speedway bring into the town/city/county/state without asking for a dime of taxpayer money to subsidize it?

Paul K. Ogden said...


I would agree with you. Unfortunately this would represent a change in that approach the George family has always taken. This proposal certainly does involve taxpayer money being used to make the George family wealtheir. Taxpayer money would be used for the acquisition of the property and then the George family would reap the benefit of those outside-the-track concessions and attractions.

Sparky said...

Since there are accusations that the members of the SRC are going to profit from the development, I think it's only fair that you name who those members are and just how exactly they are going to profit rather than labeling them with a harsh, blanket statement.