BY DON C. BRUNELL
Over the last two years, NASCAR investors have searched for a site in the northwest to build a new track. After an aborted attempt to build a racing oval near Marysville, people in Kitsap County embraced a proposal to locate it in Belfair, about 10 miles southwest of Bremerton.
While many local officials welcome NASCAR, the proposal has yet to attract legislative support in Olympia. In fact, for the most part, the reaction has been dead silence. A few lawmakers, most notably Sen. Margarita Prentice (D-Renton), chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, have stepped forth to oppose it.
Whether the Bremerton raceway is good or bad, lawmakers ought to at least give the NASCAR folks their day in court. They need to look at the numbers, listen to their case, and make their decision based on the facts, not conjecture or prejudice.
The $345 million complex would seat nearly 85,000 fans. The track would be much like the one where the Indianapolis 500 is run, except it would be constructed below ground level to mitigate noise and visual impacts.
While two major NASCAR races are planned each year, the track will also attract other races, which may include the Indy Racing League. For many years, the Indy cars raced in Portland for the Rose Festival each June. It was a major event, much like the hydro races during Seafair in Seattle. But the Portland International Speedway was a road course, and fans had a difficult time tracking the race's progress. Two years ago, the race was abandoned, leaving the opportunity to re-establish it in the Pacific Northwest should an oval track be built.
In the last legislative session, the NASCAR funding proposal got mixed up in the Sonics' controversial plans for renovating Seattle's Key Arena. But they are two very different proposals, and each should be considered on its own merits.
So, here are the facts: the International Speedway Corp. (ISC) and Great Western Sports plan to pay 48 percent of the costs up front, plus any cost overruns as well as ongoing operating costs and capital improvements. The backers are asking for another $166 million in a sales tax credit and $13 million in admissions taxes.
In return, Berk & Associates, the firm doing the economic impact study, believes the track will generate $43 million annually in tax collections. They also point out that related recreational activities will come with the speedway. For example, in Kansas City, an entire recreation complex, complete with waterslides, developed around the new race track.
NASCAR officials point out that their fans follow the major races around the country. For example, 60 percent of those projected to be in the stands for the two Washington venues each year would be from out of state. Experience shows these fans spend on average $1,000 per weekend when attending the races.
In all, the incremental economic impact from the proposed facility in its first year of operation in 2010 would be $140 million and grow by $4 million annually. The one-time construction impact is estimated at a half billion.
There are 75 million NASCAR fans in America, and 20 percent of them are in the west. That doesn't include folks who follow the Indy cars, motorcycle, trucks and sports car racing. Racing is the second most popular sport on television, and 17 of the top attended sporting events in the U.S. are motor sports.
In Olympia, there is a renewed interest for Gov. Gregoire to tap into tourism spending. If the numbers are right, a $4 billion business over 30 years should be taken seriously. Hopefully, it will.
Don C. Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.