A few misconceptions that have come about since the announcement of a new racetrack at the Pima County Fairgrounds, some of which were reiterated in a recent guest opinion.
The opinion ("Pima County's NASCAR-track dreams are pie-in-the-sky fantasies," Friday) cautioned the Pima County supervisors to do some research before "blowing some money" on "pie-in-the-sky dreams."
Let me be clear. Taxpayer money is not going to pay for this track. And research is being done that will determine whether a track ever comes to fruition. If it happens, it will be because a private operator, with a great deal of experience in raceway design and operation, has determined it will be viable.
A little background is in order. As part of the 2009 Master Plan for the Pima County Fairgrounds, the county began considering development of a 400-acre parcel south of the existing raceway facilities at the Southeast Regional Park. The fairgrounds are already home to many motorsports facilities, including the Southern International Raceway, a 3/8-mile circle track, the Pima Motor Sports Park, an off-highway vehicle area and the P1 Kart Circuit.
During the collaboration phase of the master plan, a new raceway concept was submitted that would enhance the existing motorsport facilities at the fairgrounds. This concept was for a multiuse racetrack that would appeal to not just one type of racing, but many.
Pima County in the coming weeks will be putting out a bid package to the public for an opportunity to design, build and operate the facility. Some estimates of cost put the track anywhere from $15 million initially to $60 million after all phases are completed over a 10-year period.
It bears repeating that taxpayer money would not be used to build, operate and maintain such a racetrack. The private operator would, in fact, be paying rent to Pima County on the lease of the 400 acres.
Like other successful racetracks throughout the country, the viability of the racetrack depends on a diversification of activities and attractions.
While there has been a tendency to frame this project as a potential track for stock car racing, that can be a limiting designation. In reality, the Southern Arizona Raceway is envisioned to be a Federation Internationale de L'Automobile grade-two road course, roughly 3 miles long. This would enable the track to attract everything from open-wheel racing, endurance and sprint racing, motorcycle racing and even private car clubs.
There are many reasons not to dismiss this concept prematurely.
Pima County has extensive experience leasing attractions spaces, from Colossal Cave, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Pima County Air & Space Museum to the Titan Missile Museum. We know the model can work to provide top-tier venues while remaining conscious of taxpayer resources.
In this case, a multiuse track would be able to convert to many different configurations allowing driving schools, corporate and government test programs and public entertainment events. The independently operated track could greatly strengthen the area as an entertainment district, complementing not just the other existing motorsports facilities but also the existing fairgrounds amenities.
The concept is to create a facility that caters to not just one type of racing but rather opens possibilities up for many new events to come to the region.
We'd love to hear your thoughts about the potential. If you can make it, the Pima County Economic Development and Tourism Department will be hosting an informational meeting from 5:30 to 7 p.m. tonight at the Sunset Cantina located at the Pima County Fairgrounds, 11300 S. Harrison Road.
Tom Moulton is the Pima County director of Economic Development and Tourism.