June 11, 2008 in City

Racetrack cost estimates disputed

Staff writer

Spokane County estimates it will cost taxpayers $500,000 this year to make needed improvements to Spokane Raceway Park, but a potential operator said Tuesday it could cost four times that much.

Troy Moe, representing a group of investors affiliated with the International Hot Rod Association, said his experts believe it will cost $2 million or more to make necessary safety and building code improvements if Spokane Raceway Park is to meet insurance and sanctioning standards.

After spending $60,000 on consultants’ reports, the county estimates it will cost $500,000 this year and an additional $300,000 next season to get the facility operational.

“That’s way off the mark,” Moe said Tuesday after testifying at a public hearing.

At the hearing, Moe asked the three county commissioners to extend Friday’s deadline for potential operators to submit proposals to the county. Superior Court Judge Robert Austin is scheduled to rule June 19 whether to approve the formal sale of four parcels, including the racing complex, to the county for a little more than $4 million.

Commissioner Mark Richard said the county may consider extending Friday’s deadline.

At least one potential operator, Pacific Raceways, which operates a drag strip in Kent, Wash., is prepared to meet Friday’s deadline and will be submitting a “request for qualifications,” said spokesman Tobby Hatley.

But Moe told the commissioners: “It would be irresponsible for a potential operator to respond … knowing that the county has not identified or publicly allocated the necessary funding for the required capital improvements that would allow an operator and its corresponding sanctioning body to meet requirements set forth by its insurance carrier.”

He led a group of dissatisfied limited partners who brought a lawsuit in 2003, successfully ousting his uncle, Orville Moe, from continuing to operate the drag strip, oval track and road course. Orville Moe ultimately was banned from the facility and found in contempt of court. The racing complex landed in the hands of a court receiver in an attempt to recoup the limited partners’ investments. The county was the high bidder for four parcels at an April auction.

Troy Moe didn’t provide the commissioners with his group’s cost estimates, and the commissioners didn’t ask.

Moe said in an interview that the quarter-mile drag strip needs steel-reinforced concrete retaining walls – a total of 9,600 feet – on each side of the quarter-mile drag strip and into the “shut-down” zone. Based on a recent IHRA track development in Texas, Moe said he estimates that safety walls alone will cost $550,000 to $600,000.

On top of those retaining walls, a new security fence at additional cost will have to be installed to prevent track debris from flying on spectators.

At the starting line, asphalt should be replaced with two twin 660-foot-long concrete pads at a cost that should exceed $125,000, he said.

Additionally, he said, the county’s own consultants estimate it will cost $200,000 to remodel restrooms and put them in compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act regulations. Water supply issues may cost another $250,000, and there are unknown costs associated with repairing a faulty underground electrical system.

“They had to run the track on generators last season because they couldn’t find and fix the problems with the underground electrical system,” Moe said. “That’s an expense that’s unknown.”

To run drag races, a new computerized timing system also is needed, he said. “A bare-bones system, without a readerboard or scoreboard, is going to cost $60,000.”

Moe, who was instrumental in starting Friday Night Street Races at the complex six years ago, said he’s not opposed to the county owning the facility and leasing it to a qualified operator, but he believes county staff should spend more time studying actual costs of improvements needed before the facility can be safely and successfully operated.

“If the county can demonstrate that (it’s) willing to make the appropriate investment, over and above the acquisition costs, there leaves little question that (it) will achieve and likely exceed (its) goals for this facility,” Moe said.

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich also appeared at the hearing and said he’s eager to use the road course for emergency vehicle training for deputies and other law enforcement officers. Currently, the Sheriff’s Office pays $100 a day to use the Deer Park airport.

“We’re prepared to start our department’s training there as soon as the county owns it,” the sheriff said, estimating it will save his department $5,500 in costs this year alone.

Jim Sloane, a Spokane attorney and road racing enthusiast, told the commissioners that immediately after the county gets formal ownership, he is ready to form a nonprofit group, perhaps called The Friends of Spokane County Motorsports Park, to assist with private fundraising.

Commissioners Todd Mielke and Richard, both Republicans who support the county’s purchase of the track, walked out of a public meeting earlier Tuesday after bickering with commission Chairwoman Bonnie Mager, a Democrat, who invited Deer Park businessman Don Morse to discuss his offer to buy the racing complex for $2.2 million.

The walkout left the county board without a quorum. Mager invited Morse to speak anyway.

Morse said he and partner Brian Winkler are willing to pay $2.2 million for a 200-acre parcel containing a drag strip, oval track and road course. The county agreed to pay $2.75 million for the parcel at the April auction and also agreed to buy three adjoining parcels for an additional $1.58 million.

Before abruptly leaving the morning briefing, Richard said he believes the county commissioners can’t legally negotiate the future of the property at this point. Mielke said he told Mager last week and again on Monday that he didn’t want to discuss Morse’s proposal at a public meeting. “We can’t engage in a discussion about the purchase of real estate we don’t own,” he said.

Morse’s interest in the track indicates wider community interest in the facility’s future. “It shows continued support for the decision we made,” Richard said.

Mager said the county already has discussed future plans for the track and has spent an estimated $60,000 for consultants’ advice.

“It behooves us to hear what Mr. Morse has to say,” Mager said. “We’re extending public funds on consultants.”

Mielke said the hiring of consultants and work by the county parks staff is being done in anticipation of eventual county ownership. At that point, Richard and Mielke said they weren’t prepared to hear Morse’s offer to buy the track, and the pair got up.

“You can leave if you want to, but I’d like to hear what Mr. Morse has to say,” Mager said as the commissioners walked out.

Mager then publicly asked for advice from deputy prosecuting attorney Jim Emacio, who advises the commission on legal matters. Emacio said the commissioners can’t act to lease or sell the property until it comes under county ownership. “There’s nothing illegal about listening to an individual,” he added.

Later, after hearing from Morse and Winkler, the commissioners’ attorney said the private businessman perhaps would be better suited forwarding their offer to court-appointed receiver Barry Davidson, who supervised the auction. He is recommending that the court approve the formal sale to the county.

If the county formally gets ownership June 19, county parks chief Doug Chase said he hopes to enlist help from hundreds of car club members and motorsports enthusiasts for a volunteer cleanup day June 28. An environmental consultant estimates it will cost $66,500 to haul away abandoned vehicles and 100 barrels containing hazardous waste.

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