Local voices enter Kitsap racetrack debate

Support for a proposed 83,000-seat, $345 million NASCAR race track in rural Kitsap County is growing in the South Sound region, as two area congressmen and a county executive told a panel of state lawmakers yesterday that Tacoma and Pierce County could enjoy the economic benefits of the venue.

“Few regional attractions exist outside King County,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, who told legislators that Seattle, Bellevue, and Mercer Island experienced record economic growth because of regional attractions at Safeco Field, Qwest Field, and Key Arena. He said it was time for similar growth to occur in the South Sound region. “It’s a few times out of the year that would generate tens of millions of dollars in economic activity in the South Sound,” he added.

Smith said he would join Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, in pushing for federal funds to pay for transportation improvements associated with the new facility. “Right now, there’s not a specific ask,” said Smith. “But I would be surprised if there wasn’t a request or two.”

Pierce County Executive John W. Ladenburg told lawmakers that he was initially skeptical of the idea. He said it sounded like “another plan where we build a stadium at taxpayer’s expense.” After he sent the county’s economic development director to Phoenix to research the impact of NASCAR on the city, he learned of the sport’s economic benefit.

“I’m convinced that this is something the state of Washington needs to take a serious look at,” said Ladenburg. “If you dig into the details like we did in Pierce County, you will find a lot of meat there and no fluff.”

Smith and Ladenburg are the latest local politicians to support the plan. Last week, Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma told The News Tribune, “This would be huge for Tacoma, Pierce County and the rest of the region.”

Similarly, the Tacoma-Pierce County economic development board voted last month to support the race track.

Baarsma was invited to yesterday’s meeting, but was absent due to illness.

The meeting yesterday, held at Port of Seattle waterfront headquarters at Pier 69, was the latest effort by Florida-based International Speedway Corp. (ISC) to urge lawamkers to consider issuing $166 million state bond to help pay for the new race track. ISC would pay for the rest of the project (the balance would come from a tax on race track ticket sales). The company also contends that revenue from out-of-state tourists would pay back the bond in 25 years.

According to Berk & Associates, a consultant hired to examine the economic impact of the proposal, the track could add $140 million annually to the state’s economy; $20 million would be spent in Pierce County.

But opponents are concerned a massive race track would harm the environment, negatively impact quality of life in Bremerton, create transportation headaches, and put the state at risk financially.

State Sen. Paul Shin, D-Lynnwood, questioned why lawmakers should be involved in a public/private partnership such as the one proposed.

“Public/private partnerships have created incredibly positive [outcomes],” said Smith. “Most projects have a little bit of both. It’s [one of the ways] our economy grows.”