Just a couple of weeks after the organizer of Louisiana’s first IndyCar racing event sued NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale for failing to pay its bills, a second company has made similar allegations in a lawsuit filed in federal court.
A subsidiary of the Swiss construction company Nussli claims it has not been paid any of the $358,600 it is owed for installing grandstands for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana event held in April.
That sum is in addition to the $851,000 or so in compensation that race organizer Andretti Sports Marketing says track officials owe it for its role in putting on the race.
Like Andretti, Nussli traced the problem to NOLA Motorsports’ alleged mishandling of a $4.5 million grant it received from the state to fund improvements at the track.
After setting up a nonprofit to collect the grant, NOLA Motorsports told contractors that only $2.6 million of the state money would be used on permanent track upgrades, according to the suit filed Monday in New Orleans. The rest would be used to pay vendors.
However, NOLA Motorsports spent $3.4 million of the grant on track improvements, leaving Nussli, Andretti and others high and dry.
Nussli also said track owner Laney Chouest assured the plaintiffs that there would be enough money between the grant and his own finances to pay them for their work.
“At all relevant times, (the nonprofit that received the grant) was undercapitalized, inadequately capitalized, and ... was insufficiently funded and had insufficient capital to support its operations,” said Nussli’s lawsuit, prepared by New Orleans lawyers Ashley Belleau and C. Byron Berry Jr. It said “Chouest ... actually intended to only fully pay those contractors who made improvements to his race track or who had ongoing relationships with Chouest or who had the ability to place a lien on NOLA Motorsports Park.”
Similar to Indianapolis-based Andretti, Nussli seeks damages, accusing NOLA Motorsports Park of breach of contract, unfair trade practices, unjust enrichment and other civil violations.
Joseph Bruno Sr., the lawyer representing the nonprofit that received the grant to improve NOLA Motorsports Park, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Bruno has previously said future races at the Avondale racetrack were not in jeopardy.
Andretti has declined to speak about whether it intends to organize future races at Avondale.
When it was originally announced that Andretti had agreed to organize the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana from 2015 through 2017, Jefferson Parish officials hoped the new event would kick off an economic boom for a mostly undeveloped area of the West Bank near the recently improved Huey P. Long Bridge.
But the grand prix’s infancy has been a bumpy ride — and not just because of the lawsuits.
Rainy conditions during the inaugural race resulted in a crash-filled event. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, drivers complained the course was more adequate for racing at the amateur or club level. After the race, IndyCar racing team owner Chip Ganassi said on Twitter that he was “sorry” about how the event played out and that fans deserved a better show.
The race also was held on the same weekend as New Orleans’ French Quarter Festival, which may have held down attendance. The Business Journal cited an estimate that only 8,000 spectators were at the race, counting crew members and event workers.
Chouest built NOLA Motorsports Park for $75 million and opened it in 2012. He subsequently linked up with Indianapolis-based Andretti to bring an IndyCar race to the track and to Louisiana.