Speedway — Missed Opportunity or Bullet Dodged?

As we look at what’s going in at the South Kitsap Industrial Area, the New York Times has a story about a number of publicly financed stadiums that get demolished before the bills are all paid off. The Kingdome is in there. The story is mostly about Giants Stadium in New Jersey. The piece begins:

It’s the gift that keeps on taking. The old Giants Stadium, demolished to make way for New Meadowlands Stadium, still carries about $110 million in debt, or nearly $13 for every New Jersey resident, even though it is now a parking lot.

The reasons are complex and you might argue that comparing what New Jersey did with the Meadowlands to what International Speedway Corp. wanted to do in parts of SKIA is a faulty activity. Had ISC’s projections been correct about the number of people coming to Washington who otherwise would not have come here, then it is possible that a speedway could have been built without adding any additional tax burden on anyone in Washington.

For perspective on how NASCAR is doing, an ESPN column by Terry Blount provides an interesting assessment of how NASCAR schedules are made and what influences them. International Speedway Corp., the company that was going to sink millions into a track here, wants to shrink its workforce and other expenses. The sport is hurting from lower attendance. On the other hand and from a purely Northwest-selfish perspective, the article also points out ISC’s muscle in terms of scheduling. It’s unlikely the company would build a track and not have it host races. Given the scheduling shifts going on for 2011, you could rightly wonder how many people would show up here if we had races. It’s all the more interesting because 2011 would have been the year the track would have been ready.

The speedway’s possible economic benefit still has its former supporters bringing the idea up when, say, Chris Endresen gets appointed to the Puget Sound Regional Council and has as one of her responsibilities economic development. Endresen, as county commissioner, was tough on the track.

The Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal scoffed at the idea of Endresen’s new appointment, writing:

Endresen’s active opposition to NASCAR, which would have created hundreds of local unionized construction jobs — jobs which would be contributing heavily to our local economy at this point in the recession — as well as about 50 permanent jobs, was the overriding theme of local businesspeople contacted to comment for this story. Most didn’t want to be quoted, but all were vitriolic off the record, with several laughing out loud and asking if it was a joke.

You see, the recession we’re in gets used in arguments for and against the track. Those against it say NASCAR’s lagging attendance and its fans’ increasing willingness to be more budget conscious show that making any gamble involving public money a bad bet. Those who support it say at least now there would have been high-paying jobs going on right now at a time when such a reality would certainly be welcome.

It’s old news, and this question is likely to come up again, but I’m still interested in your thoughts. Did we turn down a golden goose, or did we wisely reject a deal with the devil? Have any of you changed your mind since we had this discussion three years ago?

Vote in the poll and leave your comments here if you like.

14 thoughts on “Speedway — Missed Opportunity or Bullet Dodged?

  1. The most painful part of the ISC/NASCAR fiasco that still lingers for Washington State was not the fact that the initial proposal or deal itself would have or would have not been a boon or bust for Kitsap, it is the horrible, bungled, unprofessional way in which it was handled by both local and state leadership.

    The door was never fully opened to any meaningful, beneficial negotiations or compromises in regards to, building, financing or infrastructure improvements because of a bigoted group of elitist lawmakers at the local level and the state level that considered the sport too blue collar and socially beneath them. They basically hung a huge sign on the State of Washington that said “Closed for Major Corporate Business”.
    I find it also telling that certain “organizations” like CHECK who were supposed to be all about helping Kitsap thrive economically, went away as soon as the door shut on ISC and nary a peep about any other Kitsap economic concerns have come out of them since.

    This past year it was announced that Austin, TX would be the recipient of a brand new facility for racing. It will be the first purpose build Formula 1 track in the nation. It will also be built by private investors. You can read about it here.

    Full Throttle Production the company building the track in Austin is a NASCAR affiliated organization.

    As a longtime season ticket holder to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, I can see that race is still selling out. I already have a list of individuals that are willing to purchase my tickets this year since I will not be attending.

    Healthy? Declining? Maybe just adjusting, changing and morphing? It’s all in the rearview mirror now.

  2. No, no golden goose, more like a white elephant. Other venues have weather and transportation more amenable to NASCAR. Our virtual island is termed “too wet” and “too out of the way”.

    Port Orchard, WA

  3. I was disappointed to see the NASCAR proposal not come to fruition.

    Any project of this ilk should, in my mind, involve as little taxpayer money as possible, if at all. The upside of hosting a national venue like this, however, is SO attractive to future economic development — especially during these challenging financial times — I see it as a risk that would have been well worth taking.

    Not a golden goose, just a golden opportunity missed.

    Greg Meakin

  4. I concur with Colleen’s comment regarding the bungled, unprofessional manner in which it was handled — not only by leadership, but the community. Toxic ‘for or against’ posturing, including the square-off between NASCAR and Kitsap SEED, was extremely short-sighted and self-destructive at a time when prudent due diligence and outside the box thinking should have taken place. Because many questions remained unanswered, the holes were filled with the worst possible interpretations or assumptions.

    This isn’t just about NASCAR, but any major venture interested in coming to this region. Until the leadership and community creates a solid mechanism through which future project are properly vetted, what happened with NASCAR will continue to happen.

  5. Many good comments . Yes indeed some of our elected officials embarrassed themselves and our area in how they handled this possible opportunity. It does seem rather strange, perhaps ironic, that now out of the South Kitsap area there are discussions going on how to house the homeless. I realize the NASCAR decision did not cause the growing homeless problem , but it is rather strange we treated those with the ability to provide jobs with at least an open mind .

  6. No Pork for NASCAR. Not now, not then not ever!

    The budgets have been tough and thin since the Pork for NASCAR debate and the state needed every dime for essential functions and education.

    Corporate welfare for out of state billionaires in Florida is fiscally irresponsible and anyone saying otherwise is either breathing exhaust fumes or is flat out stretching the truth.

  7. “..and the state needed every dime for essential functions and education”.

    Not every dime….unless out of state designed Fish Art has suddenly become an essential or education related function.

    “Corporate welfare for out of state billionaires in Florida is fiscally irresponsible…”

    But corporate welfare for out of state billionaires in Detroit is OK?

    But corporate welfare for the healthcare industry is OK?

    Welcome back Mr. Metcalf.

  8. Jaco the NASCAR debate started in 2005 or so ? Olympia has increased state spending 43% in the last 5 budget cycles, our state population grew 11 percent in that time. So the NASCAR debate came about when Olympia was not exactly acting tough and thin with the budget. Right before or right after the NASCAR debate .

    Why this was an interesting question to be brought forward is because we sure could use some STIMILUS here in Kitsap . I am not a NASCAR fan , baseball, soccer, football, yes . but what has Kitsap done since NASCAR to help its community .

    Perhaps that would be a better way of showing your opinion without basically make youself look as you have not thought about it .

  9. Mr. Gardner,

    Great commentary. Without a doubt, Chris Endresen was one of the worst Commissioners that this county had in generating, negotiating, and recognizing any economic opportunity. The hypocrisy, and involvement in killing this economic opportunity lie solely with her. At the time, I served as a Board Member of The Navy League of The United States. An organization committed to supporting the Sea Services-which endorsed ISC’s track proposal. You see, NASCAR has more Fortune 500 Company’s than any other professional support. In addition, The Armed Services all sponsor their own race car with Dale Earnhardt Jr. owning The US Navy’s sponsored car. The demographics of those who serve in our Armed Services are indeed fans. It would have been nice to bring not only an event that would support three “Superbowl” type events, but entertainment for those who sacrafice so much for this country. At The Armed Forces Day Dinner I informed Chris Endresen that because of the way she conducted herself as a public official on the track, that I would no longer be taking any active role in generating tens of thousands of dollars for a number of organizations where public officials co-mingled in the private sector. With a surprised look on her face as I said this in front of other officers of The Navy League, she said, “you should have come and met me at my office and we could have figured it out”. And, that she “wanted to negotiate the best deal for the county”. Well done Chris, you negotiated them right out of town. Worth noting, Chris stayed a Commissioner only until the track bill was killed in the State Legislation, then resigned, and went to work for Senator Maria Cantwell. Missed opportunity, or dodged bullet? We’ll never know-thanks Chris, and keep up the great work.

  10. Let’s talk the FACTS for a change: Here’s a simple recap of the offer ISC made in Olympia in 2007:

    – The host city or county would have to pay for the Environment Impact Study and process
    – ISC may apply for the deferral of sales tax” and “for 5 years after the facility is operationally complete.
    – The host city/county must provide storm and sanitary sewer services
    – The sounds and noise coming from the motorsport facility will be exempt from existing noise laws.
    – The facility will be exempt from the Forest Land Comp Tax
    – The facility will be exempt from the Forest Practices Act Conversion Moratorium”.
    – 2 major racing events each year ONLY if sales and use tax credits are in effect
    – The facility will be exempt from Leasehold Excise Tax
    – The facility will be exempt from paying sales tax on use of natural or manufactured gas
    – The facility will be exempt from State excise tax exemptions
    – There will be a Reclassification of Open Space and Agricultural Conservation Land
    – The facility will be exempt from paying sales tax on use of natural or manufactured gas
    – And finally the State excise tax exemptions

    I could go on but I think you get my point. All in all I am very skeptical of spending public funds on private ventures like the NASCAR speedway. And with all the exemptions identified in the Senate bill in 2007 I think it was clear that the taxpayer was going to pay a significant portion of the costs one way or another. Furthermore, the environmental costs would have been an issue for me and also the transportation plan that was proposed.

  11. As one who was involved in the community effort to find out more about Nascar, (a group of us talked to residents near racetracks all across the county), it was interesting to see the how some changed their minds about the redneck, beer drinking, good ole boys.

    I was very disappointed in the response from our elected officials. Should Olympia or the County have paid for 100% of the track? No. Should Olympia and the County have at least looked at options? Yes. An existing track is moving or disbanding due to the Port of Bremertons continuing search for economic development. Could a facility have been built with private, Federal, State, and County money that could have been used all year for many things besides Nascar? Yes.

    Could our elected officials, “experts” on our economy, and Nimby’s actually have a coherent thought that could lead to progress, economic development and a world class facility for the County? Obviously not. Not then and not now.

    It was an opportunity missed. Did the “deal” need work or further discussion and planning? Yes. To bad our elected officials at the State and County level did not even try.

    Like I have said before. One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It is time for a change. Of all those up for election in a few weeks, very, very few will have my support or my vote. It is time for change.

    Roger Gay
    South Kitsap

  12. “If wishes were horses then beggars would ride”. NASCAR’s track is dead and gone. I think it is pointless to keep kicking that dead horse. Recently I was thinking how lucky Kitsap Co. is not to be pushing that expensive boondoggle around. If the track have gone forward, what makes you think it would have been completed when the financial downturn came?

  13. This was a missed opportunity without precedent in Kitsap County. Its too bad some of our elected officials were not a little more honest in their reasons for the non-support of what could have been the most important and lucrative project ever offered to Western Washington. Instead, these elected officials sent a clear message to Corporate America that they were not interested in anything that could possibly benefit their constituents.

    Just imagine the construction trades in our area with an estimated 4 years of employment, or the 50 some full time jobs at the speedway, or the “new money” spent by out of state visitors not only at the race track, but at motels, resturants, and other retail establishments.

    After the upcoming elections I hope we will have the kind of folks in place that will embrace the kind of opportunity that was dismissed by those they (hopefully) replaced. Maybe then the ISC will reconsider our area after they see the Welcome Sign is now on.

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