ISC wants NASCAR track in Pacific Northwest

Updated: May 31, 2006, 11:49 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Rebuked in search of support during the last legislative session, International Speedway Corp. was given a forum Wednesday to make its pitch to a key economic development committee as it works to revitalize a proposal to build a $345 million NASCAR track in Kitsap County.

It seems to have worked.

"It was impressive," House Majority Leader Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said afterward. "It helped me feel a little more favorable for it."

International Speedway announced plans last November to build an 83,000-seat race track on 950 acres south of the Bremerton airport with the hope of bringing a Nextel Cup race -- the highest level of NASCAR racing -- to the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday was the first time ISC officials had the opportunity to present their funding proposal to key lawmakers on the state Legislative Committee on Economic Development and International Relations. During the 2006 legislative session, ISC's proposal was muddled by a separate request from the Seattle SuperSonics for a remodeled arena, and ISC officials suspended their efforts for public financing this year in January.

John Saunders, International Speedway executive vice president, said the company would work on the project through the summer with local officials and then make a decision on whether to pursue support in the 2007 legislative session.

"It would be premature for me to speculate on what the outcome of all the work is going to be between now and the end of the summer," Saunders said. "We're still very optimistic and encouraged, particularly by what we heard today, about Kitsap County."

Kessler said the project isn't viewed as dead by legislators and is just now getting their attention.

ISC has said it would cover about half of the project cost, a point it reiterated through numerous speakers on Wednesday, and cover any cost overruns.

Under its proposal, the rest of the money would come from state-backed bonds financed by a portion of state sales tax collections and a new levy on racetrack admissions.

The track would be publicly owned on land in rural Kitsap County, just across Puget Sound from Seattle and accessible by bridge and ferry -- although many question the area's ability to handle race day traffic. A similar plan for a track north of Seattle died when local officials recoiled at the price tag.

An International Speedway subsidiary would lease the racetrack, preferably for at least 50 years.

Racetrack backers say the plan carries a surefire economic benefit for the state -- not only paying its own way with increased tax revenue, but returning $43 million to public coffers over the 25-year life of the bonds.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen -- a project supporter -- convened Wednesday's meeting, and trotted out various supporters of the project, including Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman and representatives from Kansas and Arizona -- two areas with ISC tracks.

Ladenburg considered himself a skeptic when the project was first proposed. After doing some research, Ladenburg now concludes that NASCAR may be "the only sport that has an economic impact."

Proponents of the track pitched the facility on Wednesday as more of a tourist attraction than just a sports facility, continually highlighting the nomadic nature of the NASCAR fans willing to travel for race weekends, spending big money along the way.

Meanwhile, opponents focused on traffic trying to get to the track's location, environmental issues and whether Kitsap County wants to be known as a racing community.

"The track will be a transformational issue for Kitsap County. If built, this will set the tone for the future for years to come," said Ray McGovern, chairman of the Coalition for Healthy Economic Choices in Kitsap. "We'll be known as a racing community. Is that bad? I don't know."

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith said he and Rep. Norm Dicks would work on the federal level to find funding to help with infrastructure improvements on the Kitsap Peninsula, including security and transportation.

Smith also lauded the possibility of having a regional attraction outside of King County.

"The number of people who come out for these events and the amount of money they spend is amazing to witness," Smith said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press