Group works to get Edmonton Indy back on track

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:41 PM ET

Real passion, a sense of community and roll-up-their-sleeves leadership by local business leaders — everything which was lacking from City Hall — may be about to get the Honda Edmonton Indy restarted.

Edmonton city manager Lorna Rosen, the point person in the black flagging of the city’s signature annual summer spectacle over a $2 to $3 million paving bill, made the first move Wednesday to get the race back on the schedule.

“Council instructed Lorna Rosen to re-open discussions with us. She has today (Wednesday). No additional comments for now,” was the confirming response from Octane Motorsports Events Inc. that something is indeed happening here to try to salvage the event lost and taken off the schedule.

It was, apparently, one of those last items at council Tuesday after a closed-door session, often a strategy to ensure minimal coverage and downplay a story.

“She was directed to leave no stone unturned,” said city spokesperson Robert Moyles, eventually confirming Rosen had made the call to Octane Wednesday and that it was, indeed, a call to make an aggressive attempt to get the race back.

“We understand the time line and urgency directing our actions.”

Rosen herself was not made available for comment.

Octane is the Montreal-based company headed by Francois Dumontier that runs the Canadian Grand Prix on the worldwide Formula 1 circuit. The company had been introduced at a press conference as the new promoters of the Honda Edmonton Indy, with a three-year deal and the usual late-July date on the IndyCar Series in 2011 in addition to a three-year, $5.5-million sponsorship agreement with the City of Edmonton.

Reaction to the cancellation of the race was strong by Edmonton business leaders, as many of them swung into action with such passion to not only salvage the race but save Edmonton’s excellent reputation as an events city, a reputation sewered by a civil servant who saw only instructions from city council that the Indy, to them, had become a Don’t-Spend-Another-Cent event.

The movers and shakers have taken the approach that action matters more than words. They have been busy in the background from the moment it was announced that the race was cancelled by the IRL, the result of a decision to switch the location of the race from its western runway location to the eastern runway, and the city attempting to stick Octane with a $2-million to $3-million paving bill.

“When the news broke, these people started pressing,” said Tom Hinderks, executive director of the Alberta Aviation Museum who last year headed Race Week Edmonton, a group that staged events such as a soap-box derby with no city dollars and no funding other than $35,000 of out-of-pocket expenses.

“A large number of business leaders don’t want to see this go away. They’ve applied a lot of pressure to bring this back to the table,” he said of the group, which includes Richard Wong of the Sutton Place Hotel, chairman of last year’s Go Indy Edmonton businessman support group.

“There is an extremely tight time frame,” said Hinderks. “We’re talking hours and days, not weeks.”

He said a lot of push and shove has been going on behind the scenes.

“There’s been a lot of discussion and a lot of effort. The will is there. There’s been a lot of hard work by people both in and out of the business community.

“It’s important. It showcases who we are as a community, for people who want to come here to hold other events. It goes way beyond the auto race,” he said.

It goes all the way to 2017 and Edmonton’s World Fair bid, says Doug Goss, the chairman of the Edmonton Eskimos board of directors and co-chairman of the Grey Cup committee, who has been working hard behind the scenes on the World’s Fair bid. He felt like he’d taken a blindside hit far worse than anything Ricky Ray has ever taken, with Edmonton losing the Indy.

“The paving is a $2-million bill. Expo is a $2-billion dollar game-changer for this city. Look what Expo did for Vancouver. It changed the downtown core of the city and was a precursor to getting the Olympics,” said Goss.

“This city will be absolutely hard-pressed to win this bid unless we get this international auto race back so it doesn’t miss a year here. There are other centres around the world looking for reasons not to give Edmonton the bid. This is giving them that reason.

“This is ‘Shame on you guys’ and ‘Come on, you guys, get this right!’ ”

Right now.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos