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Thursday, June 23, 2005
Updated: June 24, 11:45 AM ET
Bremerton track needs approval

Associated Press

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. – International Speedway Corp., thwarted last year in a plan to build a NASCAR racetrack north of Seattle, announced Thursday it has chosen a new site -- west of Seattle across Puget Sound.

Officials of the auto racing development and promotion company based in Daytona Beach, Fla., told a news conference they want to build an 80,000-seat track on 950 acres near state Route 3, south of Bremerton National Airport along the Kitsap-Mason county line.

Financing plans were not released at a news conference, but Grant Lynch, vice president of ISC and project team leader, estimated $120 million in annual economic impact from the $250 million track and said no new taxes would be required to foot the bill.

"This project carries its own water," Lynch said.

He said the biggest race at the track would have the economic impact of the Super Bowl.

Lynch said the track's sunken bowl configuration would contain some noise and help the project blend into the natural beauty of the area.

If the Legislature approves and county permits are issued, construction could begin in 2007 or 2008 on a track of 7/8 of a mile to 1.2 miles, surrounded by parking and camping areas with a tiered grandstand offering views of Mount Rainier in clear weather, the Kitsap Sun reported.

Lynch acknowledged access was an issue.

To reach the site, race fans could drive on two-lane highways, take any of four different ferry routes or fly into the airport. Plans to reconfigure the transportation system to accommodate increased traffic could take years to negotiate, said Lloyd Brown, communications manager for the Olympic Region of the state Department of Transportation.

He said Thursday that it was too early to even make a rough estimate of how much the transportation changes would cost.

Lane capacity on Route 3 is 1,600 cars per lane per hour, Brown said. The state is currently adding lanes to state Route 16, as well as building a second Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The new bridge is scheduled to open to traffic in April 2007, then the old bridge will be retrofitted. Both bridges would not be open at the same time until early 2008.

Last September, ISC officials announced the selection of a site along Interstate 5 near Marysville -- north of Seattle -- for a 75,000-seat NASCAR track, promising to spend $50 million of the $250 million cost and cover any overruns in exchange for $200 million of public financing. But ISC abandoned that plan after environmental and siting issues arose and government officials balked at the financing.

ISC then reopened the site selection process across much of western Oregon and Washington.

"I think they learned a lot from the Snohomish deal," said state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch. "That whole deal was a debacle." Sheldon predicted this new track proposal would have a 50-50 chance of gaining legislative approval.

One advantage of the new site, officials said, was that only one landowner is directly involved, compared with 30 at the Marysville location.

"I've had a feeling from day one that we would have an opportunity at this," Kitsap County Commissioner Janice E. Angel said.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owen estimated transportation costs for the new site would be similar to the Snohomish County plan, but other costs such as property and legal fees would be less.

Owen, who lives in nearby Shelton off Route 3, said he is a supporter of bringing NASCAR to Washington, not because he is a racing fan but because of the projected economic impact.

"I've always felt that the track was a tremendous economic opportunity for the state that would be foolish to pass up," Owen said.

Economic development agencies throughout the region have competed in efforts to lure the track, which could generate $87.3 million to $121.8 million in business a year, mostly from out-of-state tourists, according to a study commissioned by supporters.

ISC owns most of its 11 tracks outright, but the proposed track near Marysville would have been publicly owned and leased to the company for three car races a year -- the same number contemplated at the Bremerton National site.

Company officials said a similar partnership is part of the new plan.

ISC officials said they were eager to build a racetrack in the Pacific Northwest, which now has at least 11,000 ticket-buying fans, because the Southeast market is well-saturated and the nearest West Coast track is in Sonoma, Calif., about 40 miles north of San Francisco, Lynch said.

"When you look at the map, there's basically a quarter of the country that we're not serving," Lynch said.