NASCAR backers cite boon to county economy

While opponents of a NASCAR racetrack are focusing on how it would be financed, Marysville and Snohomish County officials say it will be some time before that can be figured out.

“No matter where the track lands, state lawmakers and local officials will have to work together with ISC to develop a viable financing package,” Marysville spokesman Doug Buell said, referring to International Speedway Corp., which would build the track.

“It’s too early in the process to say what the package will contain.”

But Buell said International Speedway has been a good neighbor at its other racetrack sites.

International Speedway’s racetracks generate a significant tax return with low service costs, Buell said. And the racetracks have a tremendous impact on local service clubs, charities and human service organizations year-round, he said.

Economy

County and Marysville officials would rather talk about the potential economic benefits of a NASCAR track.

A recent study on a local track estimated it would pump $87 million a year into the county’s economy and create hundreds of new jobs – even with only three weekends of racing a year.

Construction would mean another $140 million, plus $20 million in new sales, property and business taxes for city, county and state governments from the time ground is broken through the first year of operation.

“These facilities generally have significant positive economic benefits to the host communities,” Buell said. “We have looked at other facilities around the country.”

Traffic

The Marysville City Council voted earlier this month to start work on a plan for handling traffic on race days.

“We do know it would be significant,” said Mary Swenson, Marysville’s chief administrative officer. “We would still need arterials and a Highway 9 connector. Given the transportation funding alternatives we have right now, the likelihood of getting those in the near future is probably nil without NASCAR.”

Opponents of a track are worried about the traffic it would create. But proponents say the alternative – houses or businesses – would create traffic problems almost every day rather than a few times a year when races occur.

Street improvements might happen on a piecemeal basis as development occurs. But if a speedway is built, highway projects could be placed on a fast track.

“I think the impact on the community is going to be much greater on a daily basis,” Swenson said. “The city would have to make those improvements as development occurred. We have an opportunity here to do substantial transportation improvements with a development that will benefit residents 365 days of the year.”

Environment

Much of the area around the proposed track site southwest of Arlington Airport is designated agricultural land, but officials decided years ago it should not be preserved for farming, said Gloria Hirashima, Marysville’s planning and community development director.

Ball fields, trails and other recreational facilities could be built in the NASCAR parking lot. And streams that are now glorified drainage ditches could be improved to be more fish-friendly, which would increase animal habitat and water quality.

“We need to look at all of the environmental impacts,” said Paul Roberts, a senior policy analyst for Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. “That look has to start with a much more specific site design. And with that site design would come approaches to traffic, approaches and research on noise generation …”

That detailed look would include an examination of how storm-water drainage would be handled, how streams could be restored, and ways to improve water quality.

Development

Marysville officials already have had inquiries about building nearly 900 homes in the area.

“There’s going to be development in this area. And the question is, what it will be, not whether it will be,” Roberts said.

If the speedway isn’t built, the development is likely to be a mixture of industrial or commercial, along with residential, with limited open space, Swenson said.

“There’s not many developments where a city would be able to take advantage of that and would allow this type of green space for a majority of the year.”

How do officials determine what’s best for that site?

“City leaders are focusing their attention on economic development as the means through which we will preserve and further stimulate the local economy, generate tax revenues to meet mounting community needs and attract family-wage style jobs,” Buell said.

“Investing in economic development will pay dividends for decades to come. The Marysville area’s north end is at the epicenter of planning for development, whether commercial-light industrial, residential, or mixed. We had already put in place much of the infrastructure in support of such development long before the possibility of a racetrack emerged last fall,” he said.

Noise

County and Marysville officials, who joined a delegation that recently visited the California Speedway near Los Angeles, said that track built the turns at a higher slope and added berms to contain much of the car noise inside the track, Buell said.

The noise generated by the race quickly diminished to a low hum in a neighborhood about a mile from the track, they said.

If the track is built closer to I-5, track noise would also be buffered by freeway noise.

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