Start your engines, NASCAR is racing towards Kitsap

BREMERTON — The International Speedway Corp. announced Thursday it has selected a 950-acre site near the Bremerton National Airport for construction of a new raceway.

While the announcement ended a 20-month waiting game, it raised questions rather than supplied answers.

ISC officials, who envision building the project as a public/private partnership, pegged the cost at around $250 million, but could not estimate the public/private breakdown. They also could not say when they would break ground or run the first race, although the latter won’t be until at least 2010 — depending on how vociferous opposition to the plan is.

ISC Vice President Grant Lynch said Kitsap was selected after scouting 40 other locations. If approved, it would be the only NASCAR site in the Pacific Northwest, with the closest track in the San Francisco Bay area.

Lynch said the shape of the land would allow the construction of a “bowl” facility with a center area lower than the sides.

This configuration would reduce noise. He also promised to maintain the region’s unique character.

“In Kansas, we took 1,000 acres and just cleared it off,” he said. “Here, we are going to leave trees when we can.”

NASCAR’s interest in the Pacific Northwest first came to light in October 2003, with an announcement of the selection of a Marysville site following in the spring. The Snohomish County deal fell apart when the parties could not find a satisfactory public/private partnership.

That, state Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) said, won’t happen here.

“We need to make the public aware that there will be no new taxes to support this,” Sheldon said. “We will benefit from the increased tax revenue and will raise money through bond issues.”

While new tax revenue is a long time coming, Lynch said the region would immediately benefit from the creation of 3,000 new construction jobs.

“I’m very pleased,” said Kitsap Economic Development Council director David Porter. “It speaks well for Kitsap County that they chose us. This is very good news.”

Porter said he feels the fact that Kitsap was essentially the second choice is also a good thing, noting, “From watching what happened in Snohomish, we can learn from their mistakes.”

Porter added he expects opposition from people concerned about environmental impact of development and noise, those who approach what they perceive as excessive growth.

“But these communities are going to grow, no matter what we do,” Porter said.

Another potential objection, Sheldon said, is the type of people who attend car races.

This, he said, is erroneous.

“NASCAR fans aren’t the type of people who rub their feet in the dirt and spit on the ground,” he said. “A good percentage of attendees are sponsors, and the fans are serious, dedicated and well-behaved.”

There were no Kitsap County government representatives at Thursday’s announcement. The county commissioners have promised extensive public hearings, but will not do so until ISC submits a more detailed proposal.

Kitsap County officials have said the matter will probably not be put to the voters directly. So the public can make its feelings known through hearings, many of which will be sponsored by the Department of Community Development during in what promises to be a lengthy and involved permit process.

Kitsap’s advantages, according to Lynch, include its proximity to a top media market (Seattle rates as No. 12 in the nation), a large number of available hotel rooms (this also takes Seattle and Tacoma into consideration) and a stable and efficient transportation system.

The facility will hold 80,000 seats. Additionally, it will supply 68 hospitality suites and 100 “hospitality chalets” (parking lot tents).

An additional 1,000 club seats in proximity to the cars are in the plan.

Aside from the taxes generated, ISC facilities channel considerable funds into each community through various sponsorships and charities, according to Kansas Speedway director of public relations Stann Tate.

“We never say no,” Tate said. ”We have resources and we want to share them.”

Tate said he did not know enough about Kitsap to determine what causes the organization would support.

The facility would host two NASCAR races annually, but could host other activities throughout the year. Lynch said this probably would not include large concerts, since ISC will not want to compete with local promoters with whom they have existing business arrangements.

Lynch said traffic would not present a problem due to the infrequent events; it would be only a dilemma a few times a year.

“Local people will know when there is a race, so they can make other arrangements,” he said.

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