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Edmonton survives storm, can it weather credit crisis?

21 July 2009

Temporary structures at Edmonton City Centre Airport in place for this weekend's Rexall Edmonton Indy escaped damage as a violent storm rolled through the area over the weekend, but that may not be the biggest threat to the race.

No major injuries were reported during the evening thunderstorm, which packed winds strong enough to uproot mature trees, large hailstones and driving rain. The force of the storm was enough to knock out power to tens of thousands of residents, while others were lucky to escape as trees, masonry and other structures were brought down.

Despite the winds exceeding 100kmh, however, the storm was not deemed powerful enough to activate the city's Emergency Public Warning System, according to meteorologists at Environment Canada,although Conquest Racing's Alex Tagliani admitted that arriving in the city ahead of a promotional push had been a little hairy.

"It was the first time in all my travelling years that I had a white knuckle hold on my armrests," the Canadian admitted, having seen his 'plane was caught in the height of the storm.

Tagliani will have greater reason to be concerned, however, should he know that the future of the event his team helps to promote through logos in its livery is facing financial uncertainty beyond 2009.

According to the local Edmonton Journal newspaper, Rexall Edmonton Indy has racked up a debt of $5.3m - nearly $4m more than anticipated - after making a loss on last year's IndyCar Series debut, and local council officials continue to debate the viability of continuing to chase a place on the schedule.

"It's a question mark," councillor Ed Gibbons told reporters, "It's still early to say whether the Indy was right or wrong to do, and you can't cancel it anyway. We went in with the business plan thinking we'd do well by it. A vote's a vote and we're living with it - and I'm hoping for the best."

Councillors agreed to address any losses made on the race during the Champ Car World Series' tenure at the airport, but only anticipated losses of around $1m for the next two years. As a result, the reported $5.3m loss caught most by surprise and, with another $1.5m deficit projected for 2009, promoter Northlands - which had just two months to publicise last year's unified series event - is under intense pressure to run the 2009 race on budget.

Northlands major events director Mike Burton believes that his organisation has been running a tight ship so far, despite major outlays for the IRL sanctioning fee, television rights and grandstand construction.

"Watching every dollar that we spend has been an important part of this process, and I can tell you that I'm really satisfied with the way we've managed our expenses this year," Burton said.

"They're working very hard to make sure that expenditures are looked at very closely and they're putting on a strong promotional effort," councillor Ron Hayter, who unsuccessfully petitioned for an audit of last year's Indy, claimed, "I'm cautiously confident they're going to put on the event this year without hitting the taxpayer between the eyes."

Supporters of the event, however, insist that simply being on the IndyCar calendar is a worthy ambition, helping to promote the city to visitors.

"The publicity, you can't even put a price tag on it," councillor Tony Caterina maintained, a sentiment backed up by colleague Karen Leibovici.

"We know the Indy has huge worldwide appeal," she said, "Every time the cars go around the track on the TV screen, people see Edmonton. We can't afford the kind of advertising we get."


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