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NASCAR: NW racetrack plan withdrawn

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posted on Nov, 23 2004 @ 06:29 AM
it looks like i won't have a nascar track in my backyard after all..this is not good news for toejam

NASCAR track hits the brakes
Snohomish County withdraws plans for speedway in 'an amicable divorce'


Plans to build a major NASCAR speedway on farmland north of Marysville appear to be dead, representatives from Snohomish County and the racetrack's developer said yesterday.

The city and county withdrew their proposal to lure the 75,000-seat speedway, citing concerns about the project's escalating costs and the potential for taxpayers to be saddled with too much debt.

"I would say it's an amicable divorce," said Mary Swenson, Marysville's chief administrative officer and lead negotiator. "It became obvious there were some things that caused us great concern over whether this was going to pencil out."

Florida-based International Speedway Corp. had offered to invest $50 million in the speedway, according to a deal pitched to state legislators last month. The rest of the estimated $250 million in construction costs would have theoretically been financed through public bonds, which boosters hoped could be paid back with money spent by racing fans.

John Graham, vice president of business affairs for ISC, said those construction estimates began to climb as both sides started to refine figures about what it would cost to buy land and deal with issues such as drainage.

The gap between those increasing costs and the level of investment that the company and public officials were willing to make began to look "insurmountable," he said.

ISC officials, who picked Marysville as a preferred site two months ago, said their enthusiasm for breaking into the Northwest racing market wasn't dampened. They plan to resume exploration of other sites in Washington and Oregon today.

In Washington, sites near Yelm and in Kitsap County near the Bremerton airport were originally on the company's list.

"We remain very committed to developing a world-class speedway in the Pacific Northwest," Graham said. "I'm confident at the end of the day we'll find a place where the economics work for all parties."

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who supported bringing the potentially lucrative speedway to Washington as an economic development coup, called the unraveling of negotiations "extremely disappointing." He said the state would continue to help the company search for a state site that meets their needs.

"Hopefully, we can find something that works a little better and, hopefully, ISC will be willing to put in a little more money," he said. "I hope they will look at their options before walking away."

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said from the start that he wouldn't back the proposed speedway if it required raising taxes or putting taxpayers at risk.

That meant the county had to be comfortable that new tax money generated by fans visiting the speedway, staying in hotels, buying hot dogs and visiting other attractions would be enough to pay back any bonds.

Reardon said yesterday he was also clear that the speedway had to offer the community other benefits, such as open space, hiking trails, soccer fields and other opportunities for recreation.

With such a minimal investment from ISC -- and no guarantees that Marysville would get a lucrative Nextel Cup race that draws sellout crowds -- Reardon said he felt the financial risk the public would be asked to take was too great.

"The financial boon that this could bring to a community is large, but I don't have the luxury to gamble with taxpayer monies and I won't," he said. "We're not able to come to the conclusion that this will shield taxpayers and this community from a large financial obligation."

The news dismayed local racing fans such as John Daly, a NASCAR enthusiast who lives a mile away from the proposed site.

He said he figured the initial public price tag of $200 million wouldn't fly but thought negotiations would at least continue through the legislative session.

"I think it's a great mistake. They're being very shortsighted," he said. "Look at the public funding we got for the Mariners stadium."

But opponents of the speedway, who've long argued that the deal was too risky and that plopping down a noisy racetrack in the midst of thousands of homes makes no sense, were overjoyed.

"This is an early Christmas present and wonderful," said Eyleen Shouman of Snohomish County Citizens Against the Racetrack.

She's been working since April with other neighbors to block development of the speedway on an 850-acre site off Interstate 5 near her Gleneagle housing development. The group had scheduled a strategy meeting for last night to discuss its next step. "I think it's going to be a party," she said.

The news was also welcomed by Bruce Angell, a member of the Arlington Airport Alliance. The group opposed the speedway because of the potential disruption it could cause to recreational pilots and airport businesses.

"Now perhaps Arlington and Marysville can push ahead with more rational development, and we would be absolutely supportive of that," he said.

Swenson, Marysville's chief administrative officer, said all the hard work that the city has expended to figure out whether a speedway would work at that location had already paid dividends.

The exposure the city has gotten on national sports channels and contacts they've made have piqued the interest of other companies and sparked other economic development opportunities, she said.

She also said the city would be happy to help ISC find another location in any way it could.

"We still believe in this project and the economic benefits to the state, but it just started not penciling out for our citizens," she said.

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