Executive warns speedway officials Begin 'immediate' talks on plan or else, he says

December 10, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Buffeted by criticism from some residents and public officials, the Baltimore County executive issued an ultimatum yesterday to developers of the proposed $100 million motor speedway in Middle River -- put up or shut up.

Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger called on the developers to begin "immediate" negotiations with county officials over millions of dollars in road and utility improvements needed at the site.

"We can't afford for our communities or county to be leveraged anymore by the racing people," he said. "Either come to me to work out a plan, or we will continue to work toward revitalizing the east side without them."

Ruppersberger and other county officials want to create up to 10,000 jobs on the east side to pump new life into a region hard hit by the loss of tens of thousands of industrial jobs.

Ruppersberger said "we don't need" the Middle River Racing Association to go forward with plans to extend White Marsh Boulevard, a critical stretch of road designed to connect Interstate 95 with Eastern Boulevard.

Said Michael H. Davis, Ruppersberger's aide: "We're calling their bluff. We expect them to call us or we will move on without them."

Democrats Ruppersberger and County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who represents the area, also have sent a sharply worded letter to Joseph Mattioli III, who heads the racing association. The county officials criticized Mattioli and others who, Ruppersberger said, have ignored the layers of regulatory approval needed from county, state and federal governments for the road to be extended and the track to be built.

The seven-page letter accuses speedway officials and their supporters of spreading "falsehoods" regarding the county's involvement. It says: "If you do not enter into immediate negotiations, we will assume that you are not interested in pursuing the property for a racetrack and will be seeking alternative sites elsewhere."

Gardina said he expects Mattioli to contact the county "by Friday, or we will move on."

Some east side race fans and Dels. Diane DeCarlo and Kenneth C. Holt have blamed Ruppersberger for the racing association's delay in receiving approval to start construction.

Republican Holt criticized the executive last week. Holt, an energetic supporter of the project, said, "It was incumbent on the administration to work closely with the developers, in good faith, and that didn't happen."

Mattioli was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

Last month, Mattioli said his group was discouraged by conditions demanded by Ruppersberger -- $12 million for new infrastructure, anti-noise berms and a world-class facade on the track.

Mattioli said he and the association's other investors, Missy and Ed Berge, will not surrender their option to buy the land in Middle River. Their option expires in 2002.

Mattioli and his partners are negotiating to build a speedway near Chicago. Anne Arundel County officials also have expressed interest in a track near Baltimore-Washington International Airport -- but only if the county project collapses.

"That's another point," Ruppersberger said yesterday. "I know everything is fair in the business world, but they started talking with people in Illinois all the while they were talking to us."

In the letter, Ruppersberger and Gardina elaborate on their charge that speedway officials and their supporters spread "falsehoods" about county leaders.

"Some of the supporters of the racetrack have alleged that the county has negotiated in bad faith," the letter says. "This statement is ridiculous.

"County officials have been very direct with the developer. From day one, we have told them and their representatives that traffic was a major concern that needed to be addressed."

George Perdikakis, the county environmental chief, said he and racing officials have had more than 20 meetings since March about speedway issues.

Although Ruppersberger has shown support for the project, he has insisted that regulatory requirements be met before the track moves forward.

Ruppersberger said yesterday that if the speedway does not materialize, he will move forward with an economic development plan for the east side -- all of it hinging on the extension of White Marsh Boulevard.

While some critics of the Ruppersberger administration have said the east side's future depends exclusively on the speedway, the executive said development of the area will create nearly 10,000 full-time jobs, 6 million square feet of nonretail space and $6.2 million in county tax revenue.

In past years, major companies have expressed an interest in developing the site -- 1,100 acres of the A. V. Williams tract -- but backed out because of a lack of access to Interstate 95.

Pub Date: 12/10/97

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