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Across from the track, Daytona’s future takes shape

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Driving your car on the beach and the Daytona International Speedway. Those are the things that have long defined Daytona Beach. Those and the legendary Bill France, Sr.

It was in 1936 that the Daytona mechanic got the crazy idea to stage a race for street-ready sedans that went two miles up the hard-pack beach and turned on to Highway A1A at a bar restaurant now called Racing’s North Turn. After building the nation’s first super-speedway in the early 50s and establishing the Daytona 500, France attempted to unite speedway owners nationwide under a common promotional banner called NASCAR. All those owners thought that was a crazy idea, too, and demurred. So France and his family took sole proprietorship of the concept and remain, in essence, the sole owners of a professional sports league — as well as 13 racetracks under the control of their International Speedway Corporation (ISC).

Now ISC will fill in some of the space between the beach and the Speedway with a mixed-use project placing 300,000 sq. ft. of retail space in earshot of the revving engines. One Daytona will bring a new class of hotels, dining, entertainment, and stores to race-goers and beach bums alike. The company — now manned by Old Bill’s granddaughter Lesa France Kennedy — figures One Daytona will give those folks a really good reason to stay longer and spend more.

“The track is being used 300 days a year, either by races or by companies renting it to do trials,” said Gentry Baumline-Robinson, the ISC’s manager of communications, who hosted Chain Store Age on a recent site tour.

The Daytona 500 is but one week of the year. International events such as the World Ferrari Finals and the Rolex 24-hour marathon race also call the Speedway home.

Daytona, Baumline-Robinson said, receives more than 9 million visitors a year, and almost half of them stay overnight. Daytona has had the people, but the people didn’t have a whole lot else to do after the race than head to oceanfront bars and restaurants.

A footbridge that takes race-goers from the track to One Daytona will deposit them into the boat display area of a 67,000-sq-ft. Bass Pro Shop Outpost scheduled to open in 2017. The walls had just gone up at Bass Pro the day we visited, steel was rising at the 105-room Fairfield Inn & Suites next door, and the curtains were going up on the 12 screens at the completed structure of the Cobb Theatres complex on the other side of the development. In between will be a 144-room Marriott Autograph Collection hotel, a 250-unit apartment complex, a P.F. Chang’s, and several other first-to-market retailers and restaurants.

Baumline-Robinson says that ISC learned a few things about attracting people to a site when it built the Kansas Speedway in 2001. A 2008 study conducted by The Washington Economics Group found that Kansas Speedway had added $243 million to the Kansas economy annually and created more than 5,000 jobs.

“It’s in Kansas City, Kansas, in an area that was hurting economically. Now it draws millions of people a year and has outlet stores and a casino. The key is to get retail and entertainment partners who are in for the long term,” she said.

The ISC has invested aggressively in the long-term at Daytona. A $400-million renovation of the Speedway has turned it into a state-of-the-art sports venue with wide walkways, corporate boxes, Wi-Fi, and an app to guide visitors to any spot along the mile-long grandstand.

Standing on the walkway outside of the Rolex 24 Lounge — a glassed-in, leather-seated aerie for VIPs — we get a birds-eye view of One Daytona under construction. Peering into the distance Baumline-Robinson voices ISC’s vision for the project. “We have the ability to go farther North,” she said.

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