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Driving the economic agenda with a roadmap to 2023
Just as in its name, anticipated growth is moving at a fast rate and economic projects are moving quickly in Speedway, Indiana, proving that this town is ready to provide the roadmap to a prosperous future. Home to the famed Indianapolis 500 raceway, the town is enjoying an exciting ride forward.
An enclave of Indianapolis, the over-a-century-old Racing Capital of the World, Speedway, Indiana is a small, incorporated town with a history rooted in service to the automotive giants. Carved of ambitious plans of becoming the neo-Detroiter of heavy automotive manufacturing hubs, Speedway’s founding fathers, Carl G. Fisher (a headlight mogul) and James A. Allison (a transmission maker), purchased in 1912 about 1,000 acres south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, three years after its construction, which was originally built for testing automobiles and automotive parts. It was a land purchase that would come to cement their dreams of building the first planned city of its kind—a shrine to the automotive gods with visions of a car-centric, speed-focused future.
The town was initially laid out as a residential suburb for housing employees of the nearby industrial plants—two of them being Allison’s Prest-O-Lite factory and the Allison Engine Co. The goal was to create a community completely dependent on and culturally marked by the American automobile, reflecting its founders’ commitment to transportation and progress.
Much as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was conceived as a testing ground for automotive innovation and technology, Speedway was to provide the blueprint for a new way of thriving in urban centers. Beautiful ‘Speedway City’ planned to be legally distinct from Indianapolis, installing its own government and legal system to fulfill its purpose-built design. The town Council was to represent an intersection of hot-rodders and speed-part manufacturers, and the rule prohibiting the admittance of horses into Speedway was to be strictly interpreted and enforced.
Nearly one hundred years later and the town of Speedway is still very much a forward-thinking one. Home to 14,000 residents who boast their own municipal government, emergency services, and school system, it’s a community that cherishes its distinctive focus on its ‘motor parkway’ past and key economic development partnerships in the present, for a future that sustains and builds on those incredible early achievements.
“We’re talking about a town that literally grew up around the speedway,” says Town Manager Grant Kleinhenz. “Those founding partners, Allison and Fisher were trying to create a venue for racing—I assume to show off their wares—they also created a city that’s now symbolic of leadership in motorsports entertainment.”
Soon entering its Centennial Era (Speedway was officially incorporated in 1926), the town government has been able to reflect on past years as some of the solid growth and gratifying progress. “We’ve really focused on revitalizing our Main Street with the addition of some higher-level apartments and condominiums,” Kleinhenz continues. “The Town Council 15 years ago, along with the Redevelopment Commission, set out a vision for what they wanted this community to be. They’ve invested significant dollars into infrastructure to attract new development and now we are, in essence, reaping the benefits of those decisions.”
A major thrust of that vision was embedded in community engagement and prioritizing connection and consultation for all shared futures. “Over 1,000 residents showed up in our high school auditorium when we unveiled our redevelopment plan in 2006,” shares Gary L. Raikes, Town Council Vice President.
“Every consultant we spoke to then, and since then said that the level of participation doesn’t happen anywhere. We had charrettes and focus groups with Speedway residents and local business representatives engaged in planning initially for our Main Street for what would eventually be called the Speed Zone Master Plan. A second wave of public engagement continued for areas near our western boundary near Interstate 465. Redeveloping those two bookends, from the west side of our town back to Main Street on the east side, has really helped our residential areas secure investments of nearly $500 Million in retail, restaurants, hotels, condo’s, new factories and industrial investment, and expansion of existing factories and industrial companies.
Property values in Speedway have jumped 150%-200% over the last decade in many cases, outperforming the market elsewhere around Indianapolis, including in Hendricks County, which is west of Speedway and Indianapolis. Hesitant to add multi-family apartments as it already has several multi-family housing apartments in place, Speedway did allow for more modern luxury apartments called the Wilshaw Apartments to be constructed on Main Street in the Speed Zone Master Plan area.
“I believe they’re now about 95% occupied,” reports Economic Development Director, Todd Cook.
“On top of that, we’ve added the 1300 Block condominiums, which are just wrapping up construction on Main Street. And because it’s a mixed-use area, we’ve also introduced three retail spaces, including a small business, a restaurant, and a wine shop.”
With the town being surrounded by Indianapolis on all sides, Cook added that the only place left to build is up. “We almost have to go vertical,” he declares. “Our population is trending in a positive direction, which, on the one hand, is good for the tax base, but, on the other hand, does put a strain on public services.”
The growth and success of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of course helps to create broader needs of planning of infrastructure and tourism-related facilities, like hotels. Once a year, over Memorial Day weekend, 325,000+ people make the pilgrimage to watch the largest, single-day sporting event in the world—the Indy 500. The track’s events calendar is otherwise packed with festivals, exhibit openings, sports, and special events that keep locals and visitors alike entertained all year long.
“There are very few places in the world that have enough hotel rooms to accommodate a 3x Super Bowl-sized event like ‘The 500’,” quips Raikes. “What Penske Entertainment and the Indianapolis Motor speedway do to put on the Indianapolis 500, and dozens of other events, they promote and manage a place like no other. So hotels are important to us, and we’re working with developers to build enough hotel rooms in Speedway to handle our year round needs, while central Indiana provides for the month of May. That’s part of what our redevelopment area plans have been about: attracting people on a year-round basis, not just in the month of May when the Indy 500 occurs.”
A “Courtyard by Marriott” opened 3 years ago, and has had a very high occupancy rate year round, even during the first year of COVID, which points to the need for rooms in the town and the excellent proximity to the Indianapolis International Airport, Downtown Indianapolis, and Park 100 Industrial Park, a few miles to the north. A Hilton Hampton Inn and Suites & Conference Center is under construction and will be completed in late 2023, while a HiltonTapestry Hotel has had construction delays, but is expected to restart construction in April/May of 2023, with completion in Q4 of 2024.
Other ongoing projects of note revolve around water distribution, sewage, and treatment services. “We provide our own water and sewer, which is pretty uncommon for communities located in a large metropolitan area,” offers Kleinhenz. “That’s something we’ve always maintained because our residents deserve the most quality service we can offer. We also provide water to those large manufacturers—Allison, Praxair, and others. Obviously, we also support that population influx during the month of May.”
About a year ago, the Town Council issued a rate increase on water users and with that, put together a sizable Capital Improvement Plan—$50M worth of investment targeted at its water and sewer plants, as well as its distribution systems. “What we’ve tried to do is look for projects that need completing— like the relocation and replacement of a storm sewer-in order to move our community forward,” Kleinhenz says.
To that end, they’ve also received grants from the State of Indiana—through the Federal Highway Administration, for example—for some improvements to Crawfordsville Road on the west side of town. “That’s about a $2.5M project that looks at pedestrian enhancements out there by the shopping center, allowing residents to get across that six-lane road from North to South safely,” Kleinhenz continues. “We’ve also got plans for some improvements in and around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Georgetown Road. Ultimately, we’d like to turn that into a linear park connecting 25th Street with Crawfordsville and main street, to allow people to get North and South more effectively, but also just to enjoy and use as an asset.”
“One thing that has taken place—both recently and throughout the history of this town—is planned growth,” lends Town Council President, Vincent Noblet.
“The founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had the prudence to invest in the infrastructure for that time to give us that growth potential. In 2005, we did the same thing: going to the public and planning for changes because we had to look at extending the life of a pre-WW2 town’s facilities and systems for the next 100 years. And that’s exactly what we did, through the state legislature changing laws that allowed us to take bonds and reinvest in our community, and through the foresight of the Town Council and the people of Speedway. It’s been very helpful to have a secure destination in mind for where this town is going to go.”
That philosophy of knowing where they’re going, along with keeping the public involved in planning, has undoubtedly contributed to their achievements as successors of pioneers of urban and economic development. “Through all this planning, I think it’s shown that you can really be stewards of government dollars,” Noblet continues. “Infrastructure is one thing; education and public safety are another. Those three things lead together to generating that quality of life, which the town of Speedway is known for.”
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AT A GLANCE
What: A town with racing roots and a bright economic future
Where: Marion County, Indiana
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