The wheels came off the bid to build a NASCAR track in Marysville on Monday.
Both sides – local officials and the track developer – pulled out of negotiations for the $250 million racetrack.
For Snohomish County and Marysville, the deal fell apart because International Speedway Corp., or ISC, would not sweeten its end of the bargain. They tried to get ISC to either pony up more than its initial $50 million offer or provide some kind of guarantee that NASCAR’s most-popular racing series, the Nextel Cup, would come to Marysville. That’s against NASCAR policy.
“You can’t build a racetrack and not have a race,” County Executive Aaron Reardon said.
Reardon said the decision was strictly business, and that ISC’s proposal relied on public financial support that was simply too much.
For ISC, the overall $250 million price tag was at least $100 million more than other tracks it has built in recent years – even much bigger ones.
“We concluded it would just cost more than it made sense,” said Lee Combs, an ISC vice president based in Florida.
The $250 million price tag did not include another $85 million in transportation improvements that would help move traffic to and from the track.
“ISC keeps complaining that the costs continue to rise,” Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall said.
News quickly made the rounds among opponents of a NASCAR track in Marysville.
“We are delighted,” said Linda Staswick of Snohomish County Citizens Against a Racetrack, or SCAR. “We had some major concerns about this all along, and we are glad that the county has realized that those objections were too big to overcome.
“We were concerned about the financial aspects of this. We didn’t see how it would be a wise investment of tax dollars, and it wouldn’t bring any benefit to our community.”
Representatives from the local support group Fans United for NASCAR could not be reached for comment.
Gov. Gary Locke said ISC asked for too much money and didn’t kick in enough of its own.
“Given the relatively small investment that the International Speedway Corporation was willing to contribute, compared to the overall cost of the project, this may well have been a bad deal for the people of Washington,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Brad Owen said he thinks Snohomish County and Marysville may have come to a decision too quickly, saying they should have taken time “to have some Thanksgiving dinner.”
“I’m disappointed that they made that decision now,” he said. “It just seems to me a little quick to pull the plug. To me it’s never over until you’re absolutely certain there is no way to make it happen.”
Owen said he still believes NASCAR is good for the state.
State Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, also said he’s disappointed that the proposal came undone so quickly.
“We’ve got to diversify our economic base in Snohomish County,” he said. “Tourism is one of those activities that you can use to expand your economic base.”
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen D-Camano Island, said she’s happy that the idea has been dropped. A vocal opponent of the track, Haugen said it’s absurd to be talking about spending millions on a racetrack with the state facing a $1 billion budget shortfall.
“I’m certainly glad that they’re not wasting any more money” studying this, Haugen said.
Reardon outlined the rationale for his decision in an e-mail sent to county council members late Monday. He wrote that from the outset his office insisted the proposal meet some key criteria. It had to make business sense for the community. It had to provide recreational and environmental improvements. It had to pay for itself through revenues. It had to pose no risk to taxpayers or require a tax increase.
“We cannot proceed without guarantees that would shield taxpayers from any potential financial risks associated with the motor sports facility’s construction and operation,” Reardon wrote. “Unfortunately, we do not believe that taxpayer safeguards in the financing package have proceeded to our satisfaction, nor as swiftly as we had hoped.”
Reardon cautioned when ISC announced its interest in the Marysville site that it was too early for track supporters to celebrate. “I think people believed the project was further along that it was,” he said.
The county’s chief investment in the project has been time that staff has put into evaluating the proposal, said Paul Roberts, who led the effort for Reardon’s office.
“We made commitments to do this properly,” Roberts said. “We honored those commitments, and the public interest has been at the forefront of what we’ve been doing.”
Combs of ISC and the Marysville mayor each said pushing away from the table was not a negotiating ploy.
“We are done. We are finished,” Kendall said.
Reardon, however, didn’t totally rule out entertaining a new proposal should ISC decide to take another run at the project. “I think that’s their decision,” he said.
Combs said his company had a good working relationship with Marysville and Snohomish County and that he had no hard feelings. The company plans to reopen its Northwest search.
“We’re looking forward to finding the next thing to work out there,” Combs said.
Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.