Racing still may be a long way off at the proposed Middle River motor speedway, but bureaucratic engines are revving louder.
After a two-week selection process, county, state and Maryland Stadium Authority officials awarded a $58,000 contract this week to a nationally known consulting-accounting firm with raceway experience for an independent analysis of whether the track will work economically.
Meanwhile, track promoters -- who hope to open for business by 2000 -- are gathering information about traffic and access to the 1,000-acre site of the proposed track north of Eastern Boulevard.
The promoters plan to give that information to Baltimore County officials next month, to answer critics who charge that the track will pollute the air, clog the roads and take industrial land that could be used by businesses that create full-time jobs.
The independent consulting firm that was awarded the contract Tuesday, Deloitte-Touche of Parsippany, N.J., beat two other firms. Results of the study are expected by Oct. 1.
"You look for someone who understands what the product is," Robert L. Hannon, Baltimore County's director of economic development, said about the choice of consultants. "The deeper that experience, the better."
The county, the state and Middle River Racing Associates Inc. -- the developer -- are sharing the cost of the study, Hannon said, and the Maryland Stadium Authority is coordinating the flow of information.
County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat who represents the area, said he believes the Deloitte-Touche study will be independent, though he fears a perception of favoritism because the track's promoters are paying one-third of the cost. The integrity of the large, national firm should negate that perception, he said.
Because Deloitte-Touche has done studies of tracks in New Orleans and Pikes Peak, Colo., Hannon said it should be able to tell county and state officials and the public what they want to know.
The idea is to examine the economic effects of tracks around the nation that are similar to the one proposed here, and to try to
apply those estimates to eastern Baltimore County.
Among the key questions, said Hannon, is the strength of the market for a raceway, given the competition for entertainment dollars. The study also will look at the proposed site between U.S. 40 East and Eastern Boulevard to see if it is a good location economically for racing.
Michael C. Alfinito, a spokesman for Middle River Racing Associates, is confident about the study's findings.
"It's going to validate the findings of the [state] Department of Business and Economic Development study," he said. "They will take their experience in motor sports and translate it into how it will fit."
The state study, released in March, said a Middle River track would rack up $77 million annually in gross sales, $25 million a year in employee income and the equivalent in hours of 1,138 full-time jobs, in addition to construction of the 48,000-seat, $80 million complex.
Critics say, however, that most of the jobs would be part time and that traffic congestion and air pollution from the racing events could be damaging. The proposed opening date would be three years before the extension of Route 43 through the site is supposed to be finished.
Critics also say that no racing dates at the proposed track have been arranged with national racing groups, such as NASCAR.
Because of such criticism, county officials have balked at changing local zoning laws to accommodate the track until they get answers to those questions. The land is zoned for industrial use.
Alfinito said the developers are conducting traffic studies and have scheduled meetings with the state Mass Transit Administration to work out bus service to the proposed track.
` Pub Date: 08/08/97