Racetrack financing questioned Developer suggests in report it might ask funding from county

Answer: 'Nada, zilch, zero'

Project's opponents say officials withhold crucial details on deal

October 28, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Despite months of assurances from a developer that it needed no public funds to build a $100 million auto racing track on the Solley peninsula, the developer is suggesting in a new report that Anne Arundel County would benefit from a $73 million investment in the project.

In the status report for a track-sponsored citizen advisory committee, the developer wrote, "If the state and county invested $73.7 million on infrastructure (road, highway and utility), they would realize a rate of return (ROI) of 11.7%."

County officials and racetrack opponents are put off by the statement, seeing in it evidence that the developer, Chesapeake Motorsports Development Corp., has been misleading the county about its plans and ability to build a track.

Opponents became suspicious of the developer in April, when it announced it had landed a Nascar race for its proposed stadium. Nascar officials contradicted the claim.

Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for County Executive John G. Gary, said the county has no intention of giving money to the track developer for road improvements, construction or services.

"None, nada, zilch, zero," Ritter said. "How cute of them but this is clearly a project that needs to stand or fall on its own financially. It will not be supported by government."

Gary has strongly supported the project and recently urged the Maryland Port Administration's new Port Land Use Advisory Committee to lease to the developer the administration's bay-front land just south of the Key Bridge in Solley.

The committee is expected to recommend at a Nov. 23 meeting whether the port authority should lease to the track developer or to another applicant, including a dredge spoil recycling company.

Joe Mattioli III, chief operating officer of the racing group, backed away from the statement Monday. He said the developer has not asked for public funds and does not intend to.

"That was all 'what if,' " Mattioli said. "Just showing what the facility can spin off. The state could go on to spend the $70 million on something else. We were trying to show the incremental taxes this will create could be spent elsewhere.

"That was the point of putting it in [the report]," he said. "We were only trying to show that the impact [of] this will be positive, that if, in fact, the state and county had to invest, there would be a rate of return."

The developer has maintained since last year that the only financial assistance it seeks consists of benefits counties routinely give developers, such as tax credits for creating more than 30 jobs. The developer also could qualify for tax credits from the state for environmental cleanup.

William A. Badger Jr., senior vice president of the county Economic Development Corp., which brought the track to Anne Arundel and has worked to move it forward, did not draw as clear a distinction between what the group has and has not asked for.

"They have not officially approached us in regard to financing the project," Badger said. "We have had a number of conversations about how they will finance the project, but they have not approached the county in an official capacity."

Asked whether the developer implied unofficially that it would seek county financial support, he said, "A lot of that depends on once they get the traffic studies done. The state and county would determine what would be sufficient road or traffic improvements, and that could trigger some discussion."

Track opponents said they are frustrated by the developer's apparent ambiguity.

"Frankly, I have to laugh that they actually put it in writing," said Marcia E. Drenzyk, co-chairwoman of Citizens Against the Racing Stadium Site, an association of 25 nearby communities. "This group has no credibility.

"Getting information on this project has been like pulling teeth. We have always said if this is such a great project, as the county and [developer] seem to feel it is, it could stand the light of day," Drenzyk said. "We have yet to see the environmental reports, traffic studies and, as this shows, financial reports of any kind."

One place the developer might not go for funding is the port administration.

Port officials said during a recent boat tour near the site that the developer would not be allowed to dip into the authority's $2 million pot for port development.

"Our position has been that this is a turnkey deal, meaning that this is entirely at the expense of the developers," said Alan Kurland, director of the Port Land Use Development Office. "They will demolish the existing buildings and rebuild at their own expense. No money will come from the port."

At issue for the meeting next month, port officials say, is whether a racetrack is compatible with the port or, if not, whether it would benefit the port economically. The committee must determine whether auto racing will "muss up" the port, a port official said last week.

Kurland said the developer's ability to finance the project will not be at issue during the meeting next month.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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