Indianapolis Motor Speedway lights proposal passes committee

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A $100 million proposal to add lighting and other improvements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has made it through committee at the Indiana Statehouse.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 11-0 Thursday to approve creating a motorsports investment district to collect existing state sales, income and corporate taxes generated from the track and its surrounding property.

"When people think about racing, they think about Indiana," said Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles.

See the IMS presentation here.

Miles and IMS President and CEO Jeff Belskus went to the Statehouse Thursday to ask for financial help. The Speedway already spends $5-15 million annually on maintenance and is facing competitive pressure from newer facilities.

The idea could make the IMS more competitive with some of the more modern race tracks around the country. Lighting up the track would open IMS to a whole new type of racing, and to additional races and other nighttime events.

"Part of what makes this so special is the age and the stuff that has been around, but we have to figure out what that balance is, keeping the feel and integrity. It's 104 years old and you want to feel like you are walking into a stadium like that, but you want the modern amenities," said IMS spokesman Doug Boles.

It won't be cheap, and taxpayers would foot the initial bill.

Lighting the track, as well as grandstands and parking lots, could cost as much as $20 million. Building renovations and track upgrades could cost as much as $30 million. Another $10 million would be spent to make the Speedway compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The money would be essentially taken out as a lump sum loan and paid back over 20 years. A special taxing zone at IMS would provide $5 million a year. Another $2 million annually would be paid by the Speedway.

"What do you say to those who argue this is just another example of a sports entity, the rich getting richer, using state dollars?" Eyewitness News asked Boles.

"We've generated economic impact through tourism, some goodwill through the 500, contributed through hotel, motel, and car rental tax to a lot of things around the city and the state. We are hoping, after 104 years, people understand maybe we've paid forward a little bit," Boles said.

Boles led Eyewitness News on a tour around the massive complex, which could fit 15 Lucas Oil Stadiums inside the 2.5-mile oval.

"Up here (in Turn 1), we've got folding chairs. Especially in the upper deck, a lot of our seating is folding chairs and has been folding chairs for several years. Those are things we are looking at. How do we make the creature features, so when they are here, the experience is a little better for them?" Boles said.

The plan for Turn 4 is a little more technological.

"Video boards would be the first thing you will see and the information boards have been here for 50 years now. Where the driver is would be something else we can update. This is more our information board than video," Boles said. "We've pinpointed that to be in the $20 million range for the right amount of video boards for people to see."

Many feel the improvements will be a huge boost for the entire Speedway and Indianapolis area, including Joyce Steele of Speedway.

"Night racing? I think that'd be awesome," Steele said. "I'm all for it."

IMS officials say the addition of lights would not change the traditional daytime running of the Indianapolis 500.

The legislature still has to approve the special taxing zone. Even if approved this year, the track would remain in the dark until at least next year, and probably until 2015.