Friday, November 20, 2009

Speedway's Speedzone: Is The Westside Town Constructing Indianapolis' Newest White Elephant?

This year, talked to several residents of Speedway and attended a meeting where town planners discussed the Speedzone redevelopment. There seems to be a virtually unanimous sentiment that redevelopment is needed to revitalize the town. It is the details of the planned redevelopment, however, that have sharply divided the town.

The Indianapolis Star this morning explains the benefits that the advocates of the plan believe will bring to the westside town:

Thursday's ceremony, attended by nearly 100 people, was the kickoff for the town's $500 million revitalization effort.

Planners envision a vibrant Main Street with sidewalk cafes, high-end restaurants, race-related experiences and improved shopping options in renovated building fronts.

The plan also calls for new office buildings, a multistory parking garage and new lighting, landscaping and pedestrian-friendly pathways.

Civic leaders believe their public investment will help trigger $263 million in private funds throughout the 400-acre redevelopment site directly south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the corner of 16th Street and Georgetown Road.

An estimated 2.5 million square feet of new, mixed-use space will be available in the redeveloped area.

Financial consultant Crowe Horwath estimates the project will create more than 2,000 jobs and a 10-year economic boost of $5.2 billion.

Local leaders expect the redevelopment to complement the racetrack, making the area a destination for visitors and a source of pride for residents and business owners.

"The future of Indianapolis is taking our strengths and building around them," David Wu, policy director for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, said during Thursday's groundbreaking. "So what would make more sense than to build up the areas around where the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing' is held?"

The development will involve taking several homes and businesses through eminent domain and closing of several roads. This includes the closing of Georgetown Road between 25th Street and 16th Street to create a linear park to a serve as a buffer to the track.

Much of the redevelopment hopes revolve around the construction of a Speedzone racing theme park. The idea is that, with the racing park, Speedway will attract tourists 12 months out of the year. Daytona's racing park is cited as an example of where it has worked successfully.

First of all, last time I checked the city of Daytona was on the Atlantic Ocean in Florida, which state has warmer weather all year around and is already a tourist destination. Second, there is actually some dispute whether the Daytona racing park has worked. Nonetheless, that has not prevented supporters from plowing forward with the Speedzone portion of the project.

Color me as a skeptic. I don't buy for one second that a racing theme park is going to bring tourists to Speedway for 12 months of the year. People are not going to hop on a plane during the middle of winter to fly to Indianapolis just for the purpose of participating in the racing-themed activities provided at the Speedzone.

As is the tradition in Indianapolis, massive public spending is being used to try to leverage the private sector to open its wallet. That is a mighty dangerous road to go down. While there is merit to government spending to improve infrastructure, a definite need in Speedway, when government seeks to directly aid and direct private development, the effort usually fails. Subsidizing private development skews the course of normal economic development. If businesses are not willing to risk their money on a project, that is because they don't see the project as being profitable.

While I wish the residents of Speedway the best, I am doubtful that this project will succeed.


Downtown Indy said...

I just can't fathom their rationale for closing of Georgetown Road. The folks who live on Auburn will really feel the impact, as it's the only nearby route between 16th and anyplace north of the track.

We just went through tearing down an interstate ramp on the east side because it isolated the community beyond it.

It seems they are repeating that mistake, and isolating a chunk of the westside community.

And what business does a policy director for Indianapolis have speaking for the people of Speedway?

Paul K. Ogden said...

They try to sell the closing of Georgetown Road as needed for "security" for the races. But that's fixable. You just close Georgetown road the week before and during the races, not all year round.

I too am concerned about the closing of Georgetown Road. We allowed Lilly to construct a building in the middle of Southwestern Avenue, a major thoroughfare out of the city, closing it off. When you approach the Lilly building while on SW Avenue, you actually have to detour to other roads and pick up SW Avenue on the other side of the Lilly building.

The effect has been to kill traffic on a major thoroughfare. People don't travel SW AVenue any more. You could lay down in the middle of the street during rush hour and take a nap. It's that dead.

Citizen Kane said...

The Speedzone has always been laughable, but they are no more delusional than those that think that Indy has become wealthy due to is sports strategy. This proposal will be a massive mis-allocation of resources. Wouldn't one think that after 100 years of racing, that if a tourist market existed, someone would have figured out how to maximize the profitability of that market.

And, of course, Indianapolis sits by and lets this happen.

Of course, it wouldn't be happening if the state legislature hadn't permitted the excluded cities to create their own redevelopment authorities, thus allowing them to engage in legal theft.

Downtown Indy said...

Funny they see the street as a security threat, but they do not search every vehicle entering the track. Of course this brings up thoughts of the cooler searches, too. I mean, really, a terrorist carrying in a bomb disguised in a cooler? When a thousand vehicles are waved through the gates unchecked?

I have been to Daytona and seen their setup. It's mostly an impediment to people entering/leaving the track.

I do get tired of the deep-thinkers in this city who get paid outrageous sums to simply copy ideas from other places.

Copying a cliche (rather than designing a new one!), the formula for urban development success in Indy appears to be 'Throw millions of dollars at an idea, and then a miracle happens.'

Unigov said...

The Speedway plan makes sense if the goal is to steal as much public money as possible. It's worked so far downtown. Doesn't matter whether the thing is economically viable or not - the big money is made up front.

Westfield had a similar scheme earlier this year.

Plainfield has come down with the xrazy as well - large PDF: