Spokane County commissioners Tuesday chose a Tacoma businessman and racing enthusiast to operate its newly purchased Spokane County Motorsports Park in Airway Heights.
The proposed deal calls for a 25-year lease that would pay the county more than $27 million and put more than $12 million into track upgrades.
Bucky Austin, owner of Midway Muffler and Radiator, would operate the track within about four weeks, if final negotiations are successful.
Commissioner Bonnie Mager, who voted against the decision to purchase the former Spokane Raceway Park, said it appears the county is getting a good deal from Austin.
“This was an extremely strong proposal,” Mager said. “It certainly exceeds my wildest expectations. We expect really good things to come in the future.”
As part of the proposal, Austin would pay the county $10,000 a month to lease the raceway and split proceeds from ticket sales with the county. Over 25 years, Austin’s proposal estimates that the county would earn a total of about $27 million in rent and proceeds.
Austin also has committed to spending $2 million to upgrade the drag strip, road-racing course and oval track to meet safety and sanctioning guidelines. The county would reimburse him over time for that investment through its portion of ticket sales. It would also continue to put money into a capital improvement fund, which should top out around $12 million over 25 years.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said the raceway should offer more recreation options in the region, boost tourism and help get racers off public streets.
“One of the issues that came up in the minds of the public was, why is Spokane County going to operate this facility?” Mielke said. “We have said continually that Spokane County will not operate this facility.”
Dr. Kim Thorburn and Brian Sayrs, the Democratic challengers for the commission seats held by Mielke and Commissioner Mark Richard, have criticized the $4.5 million purchase of 315 acres, saying the track should have been left to succeed or fail through private investments.
Mielke and Richard have said the purchase gives the county room for a sports complex and law enforcement training facility, in addition to the racetrack.
“If that (raceway) would have been shut down, we would have failed to achieve one of the objectives of the sheriff, which was to have a full-fledged regional law enforcement training facility that included the road course so he could do driver training,” Mielke said.
Richard said private investors had not stepped up.
“The reality is that the track was in private hands for decades. It clearly wasn’t becoming all that it could be in its current state,” he said. “It was at risk, quite frankly, of being torn up and made into apartments or something else. That’s why the county stepped in to make that investment.”
But Austin said he would have purchased the track for what the county paid.
“If you go by a square-foot or per-acre, they probably stole it. If I even imagined that the track would sell for $2.2 million, I’d probably be over here in somebody’s jet or my jet.”
Instead, he’ll put $2 million toward improvements, he said.
“So I’m in partnership with the county to make the facility a great place to go racing for all types of motor sports,” he said.