Plans for Ill. track stalled Firm lets options expire, but may still build there

Solley project continues

August 09, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Developers planning a $100 million speedway in Anne Arundel County appear to be backing away from a twin project in Illinois.

The Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp., operating under a different name in Illinois, has let its option on 800 acres outside Kankakee, south of Chicago, expire despite promises that it would begin building an auto-racing complex there by Oct. 1.

Joe Mattioli III, Chesapeake's chief operating officer, said the company was waiting for zoning approvals. He said it plans to begin building a track within the next six months, possibly at another location. He denied that the events in Illinois were an indicator for the Baltimore-area project.

"We are very confident we can put together all the investors we need to build the Baltimore track," he said. "Until you know you can build what you say you can build, it's a very high-risk situation."

The Kankakee County Council, like most Kankakee residents, has been highly supportive. Officials seem ready to annex the proposed track site into the city, a move that would benefit developers. Mayor Donald Green has also been vocal in his support, traveling with Mattioli to the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania this summer. Officials now say they wonder if the developers could afford the project.

"They're welcome to speculate all they want," Mattioli said. "[The finances] weren't 100 percent there, but financing these things is the easy part after you've got the zoning."

Allowing the lease to expire has cost Chesapeake a nonrefundable deposit of "several hundred thousand dollars," said Richard Tallmadge, the farmer who owns the property. The purchase price was $7.5 million.

Tallmadge said he has not heard from the developers since they signed the option agreement last summer, even after he cleared crops last fall to make room for the construction as requested.

'Distressed their finances'

"I think putting up the initial money distressed their finances," said Tallmadge, who noted he would not rule out negotiating with Chesapeake in the future.

However, he said, "I will not enter into an agreement like that again. If they want the property again, they will have to pay me the full amount in cash."

Last year, Chesapeake began courting county officials and residents in Kankakee to build a racetrack slightly larger than the one proposed for the Solley peninsula in Anne Arundel. At the time, the company was trying to build a track in Baltimore County.

While the developers face fewer environmental and residential concerns in Kankakee than in Anne Arundel, they face formidable competition from NASCAR and the Indy Racing League, which own the most lucrative races in the county and plan to build a track 60 miles south of Kankakee. NASCAR controls scheduling of the most profitable car races.

Speculation among members of the Kankakee County Council is that the competition might have driven away investors in the Chesapeake track.

'In the dark'

On Wednesday, Mattioli did not respond to a 2-month-old invitation to appear at a council-sponsored forum, upsetting some council members.

"They've been keeping us in the dark," said Councilwoman Ann Bancroft, who represents the neighborhood near the proposed track. "They've made no effort to inform the people."

However, pulling out of Kankakee could help soothe relations among Chesapeake, NASCAR and the Indy Racing League. NASCAR and the Indy Racing League have refused to schedule major races on the Anne Arundel track.

Mattioli has acknowledged that the other racing groups were displeased by Chesapeake's plans in Kankakee.

ESPN Zone event

Chesapeake is moving ahead with plans for its Anne Arundel track and has announced a promotional event at the Inner Harbor's ESPN Zone on Thursday with race-car driver Bobby Allison.

The company is also starting an internship program with Anne Arundel Community College in which students who want to learn about the motor-sports industry can work for Chesapeake 20 hours a week for college credit.

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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