Back to the drawing board for ISC's Big Apple plans
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The announcement on Monday that International Speedway Corp. killed its plan to build a track on Staten Island wasn't good news for NASCAR officials hoping to tap into the New York market.
But it was great news for officials at tracks such as Watkins Glen, Martinsville, Darlington and Pocono.
One of those facilities is sure to lose a Nextel Cup date when a track is built in the country's largest media market. Officials at those tracks were sweating their futures even without the threat of adding an 80,000-seat, state-of-the-art facility in New York.
"I don't know if in some people's minds if we're ever going to get off the endangered species list," Darlington Raceway president Chris Browning said with a laugh.
But this is only a temporary reprieve. While ISC's goal to have a track on Staten Island by 2011 took a hit, the company remains adamant it will have a facility in the market.
"We're still very committed to New York," said Paul Santiago, ISC's manager of corporate and investor communications. "Just last weekend we had the [Nextel Cup] banquet up there and there were up to 6,000 people in Times Square watching the top 10 drivers do a victory lap.
"Our research shows one in five adults in the New York-designated area are NASCAR fans. There's a demand there."
If NASCAR wants to continue the growth that has made it the country's No. 2 spectator sport in terms of television viewers, it has to get into country's largest media market. It has to have an identity in an area that is the home of two Major League Baseball teams (Mets, Yankees), two NFL teams (Giants, Jets), the NHL's Rangers, Islanders and Devils, the NBA's Knicks and Nets, and the WNBA's Liberty.
"Of course, [NASCAR officials] were disappointed," Santiago said of the decision to pull the plug on Staten Island. "You never want to see a project of this magnitude that we've invested so much time into fail."
But Santiago insisted ISC isn't back to square one. He reminded that the company went through several sites before settling on the ones in Chicago and Kansas.
He also noted the New York market isn't an easy one to crack even for sports outside of NASCAR.
The city and Cablevision CEO James Dolan reportedly spent more than $11 million in their ad campaign for a West Side stadium site for the Jets. The stadium project ran into some of the same problems as ISC did regarding local government support and concerns over traffic flow.
"One of our limitations was on traffic flow in and off the property, which ultimately impacted the fan experience," Santiago said. "If the fan doesn't have a good experience, then we're not going to be able to run a successful business.
"When we took that and everything else into consideration, we realized it was in the best interest of the company to discontinue the pursuit of this proposal."
It came at a cost. ISC spent $150 million to purchase and begin developing the 676 acres currently valued at reportedly between $65 million and $75 million.
Santiago isn't sure what will happen to that land, which he estimated will be worth more than $100 million once the area is prepped for construction. The plans range from selling all of it, part of it or starting a partnership with a third party to develop it.
But ISC doesn't regret the risk it took with the initial investment.
"We've always known New York would be a difficult market to penetrate, a difficult and complicated deal," Santiago said. "It was a calculated risk we took at that time."
Santiago said it's too early to predict where ISC will turn next for a track site or how long it will take, but he is confident in the outcome.
"The fact that we've actively been involved in the market for several years will help," he said. "It's not like we're coming in brand new to this area. We've had a relationship with the folks, so we're a little wiser to what it's going to take.
"So we don't look at this as starting over, but we are taking a couple of steps back."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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