Monday, April 20, 2009

Speedway - Redevelopment Done Wrong

Today's Indianapolis Star contains an excellent lengthy piece discussing the proposed redevelopment of Speedway.

While the article contains a good discussion of the debate regarding whether to redevelop Speedway and the plans of the Speedway Redevelopment Commission, I think missing from the article is an explanation why some residents oppose the plan. It is an explanation that is going to sound familiar to those following the debate regarding the Capital Improvement Board.

The engine driving redevelopment in Speedway is the quasi-public Speedway Redevelopment Commission. The SRC like the CIB is filled with people who have a conflicts of interest and who may personally profit from redevelopment in Speedway done a certain way. What has raised the residents' ire is that on so many occasions the SRC has made decisions behind closed doors and then trotted those redevelopment plan out to resident "dog and pony shows" where they supposedly take feedback. But it is not real feedback. The plans in fact are finalized plans that have been reached before public input.

The SRC is proposing using taxpayer money to build a racing theme park type atmosphere which they believe will attract people to the racetrack 365 days of they year. I don't know if any market studies have been done, but I find it highly doubtful out-of-town people are going to trek out to the track for racing attractions when there is not a race coming up, even during warmer weather. This is going to be even less so during cold weather, which in Indiana could last 5-6 months. Although supporters of the racing theme park point to Daytona, Florida, as an example of success, there is considerable question whether Daytona's Racing Park is indeed succeeding. Nonetheless, there is a big difference between Florida's winter and Indiana's.

Something else downplayed in the article was the effect of closing of roads, including Georgetown Road near the track, for the project. Georgetown Road is a major thoroughfare. If people want to see the effect of closing a major road, they ought to drive out to Southwestern Avenue and see what has happened to the traffic on that road after Eli Lilly was allowed to build a building in the middle of the street, making it impossible to drive straight from downtown to the southwest side. I've ridden my bike on the road. Southwestern Avenue is a five lane thoroughfare that now has so little traffic on it coming out of downtown that you could lay down on the road and take a nap during rush hour.

While the Georges are touted as examples of good corporate citizen, the racing park will help the Georges expand the Speedway to capture more business from previously private vendors around the track. Eminent domain ,and the tax dollars that go with it, should not be used to enrich the owners of the Speedway.

Finally, I should say that I have talked to the residents upset over the Speedway Redevelopment project. They are actually in favor of redevelopment. They do, however, have a problem with redevelopment made without public input and which is not sensitive to the current residents and business owners of Speedway. Most of the Speedway redevelopment dispute could have been avoided if the SRC would have simply been open and upfront about its plans and taken genuine public input at a stage when they were still sorting out the various options. Then the residents could have been made a partner in the redevelopment plans, instead of vocal opponents. Hopefully that will be a lesson learned for our public officials.


jabberdoodle said...

There are some real life Boss Hog wannbes running around. Back room dealmakers who only seek 'public input' because it is federally required and makes for a good photo op.

One would hope that the powers that be would take a good look at whose bread stands to be buttered by all this.

By the way - one piece of information that didn't make the news article (which was very good) is that in order to be able to make eminent domain claims against some of the businesses up next to the track, the SRO decided it 'had to' relocate a natural creek -- right through a building no less. No justification has been offered for this unusual environmental requirement.

Lawrence is another area with problems abrewing....

varangianguard said...

I think that this is more of a small group trying to make a few bucks off the Speedway's name and reputation.

I'm sure that the George's don't mind a little sprucing up around 16th & Georgetown, but I don't think they are the engine driving this project.


Boss Hog wannabes! Hilarious and so true!

Don't ever forget how the good guys always get the Boss Hog's in the end.

brian said...

I LOVE THIS ARTICLE! I'm a former Speedway Resident, but moved to Phoenix about a year ago. Still, I've been following the redevelopment initiatives very closely. With a bachelor's degree in planning from BSU, I've studied the SRC's "Master Plan" to find it atrociously vague, while the urban land institute's analysis is used as justification for the SRC to take decisive actions.

I believe the SRC is wrong with what they are doing, and as a former resident, I believe the town deserves great things!