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Birmingham Mayor pushing for 2010 Indy Car event
Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford wants to bring open-wheel racing to Barber Motorsports Park in 2010 for an event that is projected to have a $20 million economic impact on the region.

Langford hopes to expand Birmingham’s annual sports and tourism calendar by bringing another international event to the Magic City.

Hosting a three-day Indy Racing League race at Barber would attract 25,000 out-of-town visitors and visitors who stay in local hotels are projected to spend an average of $195 daily during their anticipated four-day trip, according to a Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau study. Those not staying in hotels are projected to spend an average of $100 per day.

Langford said he wants to leverage the city’s recent successes hosting major golf and tennis events to lure more visitors to Birmingham.

“You’ve got to take the shot, the successes we’re building on make us serious players,” Langford said. “No city can sustain itself without bringing in tourism dollars.”

Langford isn’t stopping with single sport events. He and Bruno Event Team CEO Gene Hallman have had preliminary discussions about bidding for the 2015 Pan American Games. The site of the 2015 games, featuring athletes representing 42 countries spanning North and South America, is scheduled to be announced in November.

Barber hosted an IRL preseason test session in March. It will attempt to come to a business understanding with IRL by June 1 to secure a race at the 2.3-mile track for the second week of April 2010, according to Hallman, who serves as Zoom Motorsports LLC president.

Hallman helped launch the Region’s Charity Classic golf tournament, recruit the March IRL testing session and brought international tennis competition Davis Cup matches to Birmingham in March. He said Barber is working with the city and state to land an IRL race he hopes will highlight the region’s yearly sports calendar.

“Annual events are beneficial because they produce tourism dollars and provide an image boost to the city and state,” Hallman said.

The visitors bureau projects visitor spending would top $9.5 million. The event would generate nearly $2.2 million in state and local taxes, according to the study.

Birmingham is competing with Portland, Ore.; Houston, Texas, and Cleveland, Ohio, for one of IRL’s open dates in 2010, Hallman said.

IRL spokesman John Griffin said Birmingham made a good first impression in March during the testing event. Griffin said IRL was impressed that 20,000 fans came to see open-wheel cars testing the 16-turn track. He said Barber and civic leaders marketed the event well and were enthusiastic about hosting a race.

Griffin said IRL has not set a date to release its 2010 schedule, although Hallman expects the announcement near July 1. Following the testing event, Griffin said IRL gave Barber a list of changes that need to be done to the track and business objectives that need to be met before it would sanction a race at the track near Leeds.

“They understand from a business standpoint where we’re coming from,” Griffin said. “Those are significant investments and they have to decide if they make business sense for them to break even or even make a profit.”

Open-wheel racing, and stars Danica Patrick and Helio Castroneves, attract visitors who would fill Birmingham’s hotels and restaurants, Hallman said. He said the estimated $20 million economic impact of an IRL race is lower than what other cities that host similar events experienced. Hallman said the visitors bureau is taking a second look at that figure.

IRL racing is a perfect complement to the state’s auto manufacturing industry, Hallman said. Honda is IRL’s exclusive engine provider and it has an auto plant in Lincoln. Hallman said Honda Manufacturing of Alabama supports Barber’s efforts to bring an IRL race to the region.

Hallman anticipates 25 percent of the costs to lure an IRL race to Barber will come from existing pools of public funds. He said he will tap Birmingham, the visitors bureau and state tourism and economic development dollars designated for recruiting events to the state. The remaining 75 percent will come from private funds.

If Barber secures an April IRL race date, Hallman said a potential tagline to promote the event could be “The Road to the Indianapolis 500 goes through Birmingham.” The 2010 Indy 500 is scheduled for the last week of May.

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