Car racing could find a home at the Gila County Fairgrounds in Globe, but probably not at the expense of its horse racing track.
The board of supervisors heard a proposal to create an asphalt racetrack at its Jan. 29 work session. It also heard from citizens who did not like the suggestion the track be built at the location of the existing horse racetrack — even though horses have not raced there for years.
They weren’t opposed to car racing, they just want it in “the hole” at the fairgrounds — a small canyon area on the property. And the racers among the hearing participants would prefer a dirt track to one of asphalt.
Car racing at the fairgrounds has been discussed and studied on at least one other occasion, and the Industrial Development Authority came to the board in November 2011 to resurrect the discussion.
At that time, the board agreed with the concept of using the fairgrounds for an automobile racetrack and indicated it would look forward to reviewing more specific information from the IDA at a later date.
Fast forward to January 2013. Gerald Kohlbeck of the IDA and John McGinley with MAXTRAX, LLC, told the board the horse track site is preferred due to the amount of dirt builders would have to move to use the canyon site. Moreover, the county would make use of the existing buildings.
The presentation estimated the cost of the project at $1.6 million. That cost includes $47,500 for concept development, a four- to six-week job; $80,000 to develop the racetrack, three months to design and five months to construct; and $40,000 for operations and base fee (for McGinley’s salary) annually plus 5 percent of gross revenue to MAXTRAX (which does not include other operation costs and salaries).
Estimated gross revenue for the venture is $1.07 million; the creation of jobs generating approximately $178,350 in salaries; and $2.4 million in new spending, which MAXTRAX calculated results in $178,528 new sales taxes — shared between the city, county and state.
If the figures are realistic, the new venture would only make a small dent in the lopsided equation between what the county spends on the fairgrounds and what income it sees.
District One Supervisor Tommie Martin has said the county spends about $250,000 a year on the fairgrounds and sees only about $10,000 come into its coffers.
District Three Supervisor John Marcanti said the county has had multiple studies done on the best use of the fairgrounds, including a master plan, and he did not see any sense in spending more money for another study.
Martin asked McGinley about noise and light pollution and how many similar, paved short tracks operate in Arizona. He learned that only two currently operate — one in Tucson, which is only used one night a week. The paved track is preferred by MAXTRAX to limit conflicts with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding dust issues. With a dirt track, operators would have to keep wetting it to keep the dust down, McGinley said. The noise would be mitigated by a berm built around the track and the light problems minimized with directional placement.
Dennis Gates, who has been racing since 1967, said he understood from earlier discussions it would be a dirt track. “From a racer’s point of view, if it were paved, I would have to build a new car and buy new tires every week. A dirt track is not as destructive,” he said.
Globe Mayor Terry Wheeler was one of many Globe area residents who spoke in opposition to replacing the horse track with an automotive racetrack. He is not opposed to the concept of auto racing and said when a racetrack at Wheatfields it proved successful. “In the spring and fall there is no better place for racing than here,” he said.
Janet Cline, with the Gila County Fair and Racing Commission, said she would support a track in the canyon at the fairgrounds and had a concern about the legalities of a commercial entity partnering with the IDA for use of the property, which has restrictions limiting it to predominantly agriculture endeavors.
Sharron Lavin, also with the fair commission, said perhaps the county could bring back horse racing. She said the state racing commission had asked her if the county wanted to have horse racing return. Lavin told the supervisors she had responded “yes” to every question and did an informal survey of other county racing groups and they had responded in a similar fashion. However, she said she didn’t know whether this means the imminent return of horse racing.
In the meantime, the track hosts a contracted demolition derby. Changing the conditions could therefore result in legal problems, Cline said.
District Two Supervisor and Chairman Mike Pastor said racing is a good economic driver, but both sides have a lot of work to do before the supervisors can make a decision.