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County officials still hoping races start at park this season

Fri., June 20, 2008, midnight

Spokane County leaders said Thursday they still might hold races this year at Spokane Raceway Park, despite a judge’s decision that delays the sale of the track indefinitely.

County officials, who successfully bid for 315 acres of raceway land at an April auction, had hoped to start racing by mid-July – a date that now is out of reach.

It’s unclear how much longer it will take to finalize the sale now that Spokane County Superior Court Judge Robert Austin has said he wants a third party to examine the case, but county Commissioner Todd Mielke said opening the track this year is not out of the question.

“It’s important that we recognize that there are a lot of legal issues and a lot of parties. We need to let the process work,” Mielke said. “I’m hopeful that an operator will be able to get some time under their belt to be able to fine-tune operations of the facility as opposed to waiting an entire year.”

Commissioner Mark Richard said he’s most concerned about restarting Friday-night drag racing, an event aimed at getting teens and young adults to race at a sanctioned strip and off streets.

Richard said the county likely would need to take ownership by mid-July to have a shortened 2008 racing season.

A volunteer cleanup day at the raceway, scheduled for June 28, has been put on hold. However, Mielke said he believes the county still should be able to select an operator for the track as long as the contract has a flexible start date. The county is scheduled to choose next week from among four parties who submitted bids to run the raceway.

County parks director Doug Chase said interviews with potential operators went ahead Thursday as planned. The delay will give the county time to negotiate details of the operator’s contract and examine results of a consultant’s study on the track that is expected to be completed by the end of June, he said.

If the auction results are approved, the county will pay about $4.3 million for the land. Mielke and Richard argue that county ownership saved an important entertainment venue and will generate economic development. Commissioner Bonnie Mager, who opposed the purchase, says the raceway could have been saved by the private sector without the use of tax money.

Mager said she is unsure if the county will select an operator next week.

“I don’t have any way of knowing how much of a delay this is actually going to turn into,” Mager said. “Every delay makes (opening in 2008) less likely.”

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