Speedway seeks state financial help

Indiana lawmakers are being asked to help financially fuel some $100 million worth of improvements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The debate continued today at a meeting of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee, although a vote was delayed.

While the cars go fast at the Brickyard—change comes slow. For instance, the Brickyard is still in the dark—some 25 years after Wrigley Field installed lighting.

“It’s anticipated that we probably would only light the oval track, which would provide some event flexibility, a widened window of opportunity, the potential to race in prime time,” said CEO Jeff Belskus of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “A night race, as you heard, could avoid mid-summer heat.

On the ‘hot seat’ today—Belskus explained that the Indianapolis 500 is now televised in 200 different countries, yet it can barely be seen by fans in the grandstands who are accustomed to Jumbotrons.

“The screens we have today were installed in 1991. We've been put on notice that the manufacturer will no longer service these screens,” said Belskus. “To stay competitive we need to spend a lot of money.”

The request that tax dollars be used to help fuel the project financially lead one lawmaker to ask if there were any plans to sell the track, while another requested the speedway open its books and prove that it was financially solvent.

“There's not been a lot of things they've asked for and they've given a great deal throughout the years so,” said House Ways and Means Committee Member Rep. David Niezgodski, (D) South Bend. “I do think that they, I think this is not just an ‘open the floodgates’ type of situation, I think they do stand a bit on their own, so that's probably a reason I’m going to listen.”

The state money would come from the track itself, not from the public at large.

For example, installing lights and adding a new night race to the speedway schedule would arguably create an increase in sales and income taxes.

Track officials simply want to capture the increase associated with track improvements (up to $5 million per year for 20 years) to make more improvements.

Today, lawmakers heard that hosting the Indianapolis 500 was like hosting a Superbowl every year.

A new study shows that the track contributes $510 million annually to the state economy, and that it is directly and indirectly responsible for 6,200 jobs that pay an average salary of $63,000.

The track draws 200,000 out of state visitors each year, who buy 600,000 hotel room nights.

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