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Racing fan wants to buy track

Thu., June 5, 2008

A racing enthusiast outbid by Spokane County for Spokane Raceway Park in April apparently still hopes to buy the track.

Deer Park businessman Don Morse is leading an effort to pay the county $2.2 million for a 200-acre tract that includes the Airway Heights raceway, according to Morse’s attorney, Douglas J. Edwards. The offer is $300,000 less than the county paid based on the winning per-acre bid for the raceway and other surrounding parcels.

Spokane County successfully offered about $4 million for 570 acres, including land where officials say they want to build a park and a law enforcement training center.

“Mr. Morse has been led to believe that the county may have second thoughts regarding the purchase of Spokane Raceway Park, and that if another alternative was available, it would be considered,” Edwards said in an e-mail sent Tuesday to county commissioners.

Morse said in an interview that he realizes the $2.2 million offer might be a long shot.

“I’ve only discussed our offer with (county Commissioner) Bonnie (Mager),” he said. “She said it was a possibility, that it would be discussed.”

The sale of the raceway has not been finalized. A judge is expected to rule on the final sale June 19.

If the county borrows the $4.4 million it needs to buy the raceway and surrounding parcels, it would likely have an annual payment of about $325,000 or $350,000, said county CEO Marshall Farnell.

Meanwhile, county officials are preparing to take over the track. It has requested proposals from operators who want to lease it.

Mager, a critic of the county’s bid on the raceway, said Wednesday that officials should at least examine Morse’s offer. Although it’s less than what the county paid, it could save the county money in the long run, she said. A county study suggests it could cost $500,000 to fix up the track to reopen it.

“My intent has always been to save the raceway, not for the county to own the raceway,” said Mager, who added that she called Morse last week and told him that she would consider a purchase offer.

Airway Heights Mayor Matthew Pederson questioned whether Morse has enough money to operate the track.

He points to the county study on the track, which recommended that adjoining properties also be purchased to allow for better traffic flow into the track. If Morse only wants to buy the raceway property without surrounding land, it could be a signal that he doesn’t have enough money to run a quality operation, Pederson said.

“The county has done a tremendous amount of due diligence to study every aspect of this whole project,” Pederson said. “I know that you cannot do what needs to be done to make it operational and feasible with just that single parcel.”

County Commissioner Todd Mielke said it’s premature to consider selling the track before the county even owns it. He criticized Mager for encouraging Morse to bid on the track. If she wanted to start a discussion on selling the track she should have done it in a public setting, Mielke said. “You have that dialogue in the public eye, and that’s certainly not what has happened,” he said. Mager pointed to a meeting Mielke and county Commissioner Mark Richard attended last month that may have violated the Open Public Meeting Act. She said Mielke’s assessment was hypocritical “at the very least.”

Morse said although he’s offering less than what the county paid for the land, the county would benefit because the property would be back on the tax rolls.

“The county would pick up the tax base it’s not getting if the county owns the track,” Morse said.

Morse, who owns an aircraft salvage business at Deer Park Airport, is a racing enthusiast and a member of the Dukes Car Club and knows Mielke, who’s also a member.

He said he’d keep the track open for racing, but added, “I’m not going to say it’s going to be a race track forever. I’m a businessman, and if the interest wasn’t there to support its use as a track, we’d have to sell it or find some other use.”

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