Plan might be scuttled for Middle River raceway Track developer close to making deal on land near Chicago instead

November 15, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

The leader of efforts to build a $100 million speedway in eastern Baltimore County is close to striking a deal for a track outside Chicago -- a move that would scuttle the controversial Middle River project.

Amid continuing criticism from Baltimore County residents and officials, Joseph Mattioli III confirmed yesterday that he has been negotiating with politicians and investors for a speedway on farmland near Kankakee, Ill.

"I am a racing businessman," said Mattioli, chief operating officer of Middle River Racing Association (MRRA), who has also shopped the raceway proposal in Anne Arundel and Harford counties.

"We're 70 to 80 percent there," Kankakee Mayor Donald E. Green said, adding that he and others have been negotiating with Mattioli since April.

Green said investors are being enlisted for the project, with the expectation that construction could start as early as spring.

Mattioli has billed his proposal as a way to revitalize Baltimore County's east side, creating jobs, tax revenue and tourist dollars. He plans a track with 50,000 seats, which could eventually double in size to accommodate major races such as NASCAR's Winston Cup series.

But the Middle River proposal has sparked intense opposition from area residents, who have expressed fears of excessive traffic, noise and pollution.

Responding to those concerns, county officials have demanded that the raceway developers invest more than $12 million in roads, utilities and other improvements before the project could move forward at the 1,100-acre A. V. Williams tract near Martin State Airport.

County officials also have said the raceway could open no sooner than three to four years from now because of state and federal requirements -- not in 1999, as track supporters hoped.

Mattioli said yesterday that he was discouraged by the conditions issued last month by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "Unless creative minds can find creative solutions, meeting the county's proposals will be a difficult task," Mattioli said.

A spokesman for Ruppersberger said the executive will not back off from the conditions when he meets Mattioli next week.

"Dutch was clear when he told association officials that transportation and sewerage were not negotiable," said spokesman Michael Davis. "They know what has to be done if their project will move forward."

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, called the raceway proposal "speculative. They still have no solid race dates or outside financial investment.

"They simply want to use county and state funding for leverage to obtain financial as well as NASCAR support. As far as I'm concerned, the speedway is not in the cards."

Mattioli said MRRA's principal investors -- Ed and Missy Berge and Mattioli -- would not surrender their option to buy the Williams property. He said the property, has "value no matter which way the speedway goes. We're going to hold on to it." The option expires in February 2002.

County officials have expressed interest in developing the property after the state extends White Marsh Boulevard from Pulaski Highway to Eastern Boulevard in four to five years.

"I guess Mattioli and company can still make some money out of it," said Adam Paul, president of the White Marsh Civic Association and a speedway opponent. "It looks like they feel the Williams site will not provide what they need insofar as a raceway is concerned."

Kankakee's mayor said John E. Glennon, managing director of BT Alex. Brown Inc., has lined up potential investors for a NASCAR speedway. Glennon could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Green and others said the track would be located on approximately 800 acres of farmland about 60 miles south of Chicago. A major highway, Interstate 57, links Chicago with the site.

"There's very little opposition because the site is not close to any community," Green said. "This will be easier to push through the planning commission, not being close to any community."

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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