Renovation of historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway nonetheless a piece in ‘process’

As Speedway Motorsports makes an attempt to land a deal to renovate and promote races on the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, it has appeared like a slog over the previous 5 years.

“You’re saying a slog for government work?” Nashville Mayor John Cooper quipped Nov. 30 when requested if that was an correct portrayal. “That’s very fast for government. … It will be a process.”

Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith stated he’d desire the time period “process” over “slog,” as he’s hopeful the proposal features momentum and that votes that seemingly will occur in 2023 go his approach. He’ll want elected officers to approve a deal of almost $100 million in bonds to be paid off primarily from income generated by the observe.

“This is an opportunity to take an existing facility and remake it, rebuild it … and make it new again in a way that is true to the history and can celebrate and go about the future,” Smith stated.

A “process” that has taken 5 years may very well be thought-about near the end line or removed from it, relying on the attitude.

The observe, which might be repaved, would stay a 0.596-mile asphalt oval. Capability would enhance from 12,000 to 30,000 with further vital upgrades, together with compliance with the People with Disabilities Act.

The mayor’s workplace and Speedway Motorsports (via its Bristol Motor Speedway subsidiary) have agreed on two contracts — a improvement settlement to renovate the power and a lease settlement for Bristol to function it for the following 30 years.

These contracts now should be authorized first by the Nashville Board of Honest Commissioners after which by the Nashville Metro Council.

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It isn’t a matter of whether or not the observe ought to stay open — in 2011, 71% of the voters authorized of a referendum that the fairgrounds, and the observe, stay operational. The dialogue is whether or not partnering with Bristol — and the NASCAR Cup Sequence occasions that will include it — is the perfect use for a facility in a metropolis neighborhood.

The observe opened in 1904. Its final Cup race got here in 1984, the final Xfinity race in 2000. It continues to run native racing, NASCAR regional collection and different main late mannequin occasions.

“I’m very confident because it’s just such a good deal for Nashville,” Cooper stated concerning the Bristol proposal.

“Here we had this under-invested-in historic racetrack. … With Bristol’s help in this public-private partnership, we can invest in that racetrack for a Cup event and really add to our crown jewels in NASCAR.”

Prior to now month, the Honest Board has had one workshop and one public remark session on the proposal. It has two workshops and one other public listening to scheduled within the coming weeks. A date for a vote has not been set.

If approval is accomplished by the top of June, it may very well be doable to host a Cup race there in 2025, stated Bristol Motor Speedway president Jerry Caldwell.

The financials are primarily based on having 15 Cup occasions on the speedway over 30 years (there can be an anticipated Xfinity race, at the least, yearly).

Why 15? Plainly Speedway Motorsports is contemplating some form of alternating schedule. In its first proposal, it had steered simply 10 Cup occasions over 30 years.

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Speedway Motorsports, which owns 10 present Cup services, can be working two historic tracks in Nashville and North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina and in addition three tracks in Tennessee in Nashville Fairgrounds, Nashville Superspeedway (about 35 miles exterior town) and Bristol.

“That gives us some flexibility to work in the direction of where we want to go,” Smith stated concerning the 15 Cup occasion over 30 years proposal. “As we get to closer to actually moving forward, breaking ground on the project, we’ll be able to firm up the plans.”

On the first public response listening to final week, about two dozen individuals spoke towards the proposal and a few dozen spoke for it. Extra individuals spoke for the proposal at a recurrently scheduled truthful board assembly Tuesday.

It isn’t uncommon for these conferences to deliver out feelings and pleas from residents — and the observe is a rarity in that it’s positioned in a metropolis neighborhood and never a number of miles faraway from a metropolis and residential space.

Based on a textual content message despatched to space residents previous to the primary public remark assembly, a gaggle that helps the speedway urged individuals to go and help it, stating: “Opponents who want to kill the track are organized and will turn out in force. Can we count on you to attend?”

A type of who has been probably the most vocal has been former truthful board member Jason Bergeron, who has stated he isn’t towards a deal however needs it to be truthful.

“This proposal is currently so flawed with minimal protections for Nashville, and also how it threatens to bring … [the] big out-of-control downtown party into the heart of our neighborhoods,” Bergeron advised the truthful board at its Dec. 8 assembly.

Bergeron stated neighborhood residents have “a lot of confusion, fear and hopelessness” concerning the proposal.

“Do you have the heart and the courage to slow this down, not have it rushed through and then incorporate the kind of financial and community protections that your fellow citizens need to see?” Bergeron requested the truthful board.

“I hope you have that heart. And we’re going to be talking a lot more how to accomplish those changes with you in the coming weeks.”

Cooper stated partnering with Speedway Motorsports offers town the flexibility to deliver a Cup occasion to the observe due to its potential to maneuver Cup races amongst its services. The one public cash is a $17 million grant from the state plus roughly $17 million paid by the Nashville conference bureau, primarily for occasions to be held there.

“You’re investing in the future,” Cooper stated. “In any other case, we’ve got to pay for the sound boundaries and enhancements of the stadium.

“This can be a massive approach the place it’s not our taxpayers nevertheless it’s customers who’re going to finish up paying for the enhancements.”

Here is where the proposed deal — and many of the details — stand and why those in favor say it is a user-based payment plan:

  • The project is estimated at $116.3 million — $96 million in hard construction costs and $20.3 million in design and development and other costs.
  • It is estimated that the city would need to finance $97.26 million by bonds as the state has granted $17 million to the project and Bristol will put $2 million into the design phase.
  • Bristol has committed to paying any overruns in design costs over $6 million (the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. will put in $4 million), but the city would be on the hook for any overruns if the $97.26 million in bonds are not repaid.

Those bonds are designed to be repaid over the 30 years by revenues generated by the track. Now the sticky part of the conversation: A financial consultant hired by the city projects those revenues to fall $6.5 million short of what is needed to pay back the bonds. Bristol projects less than $1 million short.

Right here is the place the revenues would come from:

  • $1 million annual rent, increasing 1% each year, paid by Bristol.
  • $650,000, per year, from the Nashville convention bureau to rent the facility for 20 non-racing events.
  • $600,000 in sponsorship revenues per year that Bristol generates, with a 1% escalator (Bristol keeps anything above $600,000).
  • 10% of any facility naming rights.
  • A $5 per ticket tax (or 10% of ticket price, whichever is lower). The consultant estimates this would generate $1-$1.02-$1.41 million per year; Bristol estimates it at $1.41-$1.55 million per year.
  • Sales tax generated by tickets, parking, food and beverage sales, etc. The consultant estimates this at $1.976 million per year; Bristol says $2.646 million.
  • 15% of all food and beverage sales. The consultant estimates this at $201,304 per year; Bristol estimates it at $312,617.
  • 5% of gross revenue for all race weekends other than the four weekends that Bristol designates are “vital race weekends.” The consultant’s estimate on this is higher — $609,385 per year; Bristol at $377,803.

If there is money left over in revenues generated after paying off the bonds, 75% of it goes to the fair board; 25% to Bristol.

The financials likely will be the biggest point of debate and potential negotiations.

In addition to questions about the financials, the biggest concerns are parking, noise and overall disruption of life for the residents in the neighborhood. A Major League Soccer stadium was built next door to the Fairgrounds, and its debut hasn’t gone the smoothest when it comes to parking and traffic (not atypical for a new facility).

The important thing parts of the Bristol proposal on these points:

  • 10 weekends of racing, same as there are now, except one would include NASCAR national series.
  • Racing events would not include monster trucks, motorcycles, go-karts, etc.
  • Reduction of practice days from 25 to 20.
  • Creation of 20-foot sound mitigation walls.
  • Continued use of mufflers, except for NASCAR national events.
  • Cars can only run 3-9 p.m. on Fridays and schedules should have events ending by 10 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 p.m. on Sundays (7 p.m. if there is school on Monday). Cup events would be exempted.

Track financials are more difficult to track than a few years ago now that the tracks are privately owned as the Smith family took Speedway Motorsports private and the France family (through NASCAR) took International Speedway Corp. private. That means track capacities and revenues are no longer disclosed.

But the public documents in the Fairgrounds proposal added a few new tidbits, including:

  • Bristol’s current capacity is 127,163. It used to be more than 140,000.
  • Using Bristol, Charlotte, Las Vegas and Texas, the 2019 median (not average, but median among those tracks) for Cup races paid attendance was 55,454, for Xfinity it was 28,062, for trucks, it was 20,426.
  • From five Speedway Motorsports tracks, their average sponsorship generation was $2.3 million per year.

Thinking Out Loud

One of the more intriguing unknowns going into the Daytona 500 is whether four-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves will run and for what team.

Don Hawk, who runs the SRX Series, told Castroneves if he won a race, he would try to get him a ride. Castroneves won and they are still working on a deal.

The most likely teams are Trackhouse Racing and The Money Team. Both are Chevrolets. Trackhouse would have to add a third car, which it has done in the past, but to do a third car for the Daytona 500 is a significant effort. The Money Team, a part-time team with the support of Floyd Mayweather, doesn’t have the pedigree but has some notoriety.

Hopefully, the deal gets done somewhere. Castroneves is a worldwide star and his fame goes beyond racing. It would be a boost to the sport’s biggest event and add a little extra intrigue.

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Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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