NASCAR racetrack developer selects site near Marysville

A developer of NASCAR racetracks has selected Snohomish County as its preferred site for a Northwest speedway, county officials and executives from International Speedway Corp. will announce Monday.

The decision eliminates a site in Kitsap County and at least two near Portland that were vying for the track, a source said. A speedway has been coveted by the communities because of the income and jobs it is expected to bring, thanks to NASCAR's growing popularity. A site near Yelm, Thurston County, was removed from the list last week.

Snohomish County and Marysville officials had been trying since April to lure International Speedway Corp. (ISC) to 600 acres of farmland between Marysville and Arlington, east of Interstate 5. An economic study indicated the proposed ¾-mile track, which would seat about 75,000 people, would generate between $87.3 million and $121.8 million in new revenue every year.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon yesterday said he couldn't confirm or deny that ISC's preferred site was in Snohomish County. He told a reporter that he could say more if a story on the decision could be held until Monday. He didn't give a reason for delaying the announcement, but said he would take the story to other media if The Seattle Times didn't agree to hold it.

He later called the reporter to see if a story on the decision would be delayed. When told it would not, he then said ISC will be in Snohomish County on Monday to announce its decision. But he insisted he didn't know what the decision would be.

"I feel good about it," he said of the impending announcement. "I think it's a positive sign that they're coming to Washington state."

But after his telephone conversation with a reporter, Reardon inadvertently left his phone off the hook and could be heard telling other county officials in his office that he was only "playing dumb" and that he had told another official Marysville would be the site.

A source familiar with the decision said ISC surprised local officials by choosing a site so early. They had expected the company to narrow the sites to one in Oregon and one in Washington and see which state would offer the best incentives.

Tom Valley, the director of corporate development for the Florida-based track developer, said ISC's board of directors met Wednesday but didn't vote on the site. "I don't know if there's going to be an announcement next week," he said.

None of the company's 14 board members could be reached last night for comment.

Snohomish County Council Chairman John Koster, R-Arlington, who represents the area where the track would be built, said the company's lobbyist contacted him yesterday afternoon to set up a meeting because of the Monday announcement.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what that means as far as location goes," Koster said. "You know, Marysville is in my district, after all."

Marysville officials were cautious in their response.

"It would be really good news," Mayor Dennis Kendall said. "I'm holding my reaction until I actually see the proposal or something that says Marysville is the selected site."

Koster and Reardon both stressed that a track wasn't a sure thing for Snohomish County even if the speedway developer announces plans to build here. Koster, especially, is hesitant to express support for the idea.

Before Snohomish County and the state agree to help finance a huge racetrack, Reardon said, the county will have to make sure it pays off.

"I'm not willing to take a loss to have NASCAR come here," he said last week in a separate interview. He added that he didn't think the county would have to take a loss.

Local officials hope the state Legislature will approve special financing that would let public agencies borrow money to help build the track, then pay back the loans with tax revenue generated by the track.

Wyandotte County, Kan., used similar financing to build the Kansas Speedway in 2001. State and local governments there offered a $120 million financing package to ISC that included buying 146 residential lots and farmland and waiving the track's property taxes for 30 years.

Officials in the county credit the track with bringing jobs, businesses and retail revenue.

Some Washington state legislators have already said they wouldn't support that kind of financing for a sports facility. Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, opposes the track, which she has said would be a "hard sell" in the Legislature.

After last year's $3.2 billion package to persuade Boeing to build the 7E7 jetliner in Everett, some lawmakers may shy away from another big-budget bill to lure economic development to Snohomish County.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who chairs the Senate Economic Development Committee, has said he expected the state would need to shuffle planned transportation projects or pass transportation bills if ISC wants to locate here, a technique Kansas used.

Sheldon, a track supporter, said the state also could offer ISC master-planned permitting, which would allow the developer to obtain all of its necessary permits up front, so as to save time later.

ISC is scheduled to make a presentation to the state's Legislative Committee of Economic Development and International Relations on Oct. 6. That could help clarify what the company wants from the state.

The company would have to buy the land, which has 29 different owners. The Snohomish County Council would have to add some of the land to Marysville's urban-growth area, and then Marysville would likely annex the site.

The site is about 600 acres, with another 150-acre area for possible expansion.

The proposal for a racetrack has been controversial in North Snohomish County. Residents of the neighborhoods to the east and west of the site formed a group called Snohomish County Citizens Against the Racetrack, or SCAR. They say the development would be noisy and are concerned about traffic congestion and harm to the environment.

A group of local business leaders and others who supported the idea of a track formed FUN — Fans United for NASCAR. They see the track as an engine for economic development and job creation in the northern part of the county. The site will likely be developed anyway, they say, and a racetrack is a way to keep the land in the hands of a single owner and ensure the development is well-designed.

Seattle Times staff reporter Christopher Schwarzen contributed to this report.

Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or

NASCAR in Washington

International Speedway Corp., a company that develops NASCAR tracks, is expected to announce Monday it has chosen a Snohomish County site for its newest track. ISC's effort to locate a track in the region began more than a year ago.

Spring 2003: ISC officials contact the city of Everett, scouting for an approximately 1,000-acre site for a 70,000- to 80,000-seat track. Without a site that big, city officials refer ISC to Seattle and King County.

June 2003: Seattle Sports Commission talks with ISC; ISC later trims its site requirement to 500 acres.

September 2003: Darrington officials pitch a site off Highway 530; Snohomish County officials said to be in talks with ISC about other possible properties.

October 2003: Snohomish County leaders meet with ISC and propose larger, more accessible properties besides Darrington. The Snohomish County Economic Development Council, local elected officials and Kitsap County representatives visit a NASCAR track in Kansas City, Kan., to learn about the impacts of a track and the effort required to land one. Those involved with the effort say a track could bring 160 permanent and 2,000 seasonal jobs, $87 million in annual revenue and $58 million in state and local taxes.

February 2004: Said to be in the running for the track in Washington are sites in Thurston and Kitsap counties and three areas in Snohomish County: Darrington, Monroe and land between Arlington and Marysville. ISC leaders visit lawmakers in Olympia to spell out the impacts of a track and say they will pick a site by the end of the year. Legislators start talking about incentives.

April: Snohomish County leaders, hailing a NASCAR track as an economic boon akin to the Boeing 7E7, narrow the sites they're proposing to two in the Arlington/Marysville area and send a formal proposal to ISC. Neighbors worried about noise, traffic and other impacts soon form an opposition group. Sites in Portland also confirmed in the running.

May: Snohomish County officials pin down one site near the Arlington Airport as their chosen site.

Sept. 13: Thurston County economic-development officials announce ISC has eliminated the county's proposed site near Yelm because it's too far from Interstate 5.

Monday: Snohomish County and ISC are expected to announce that the preferred site for a NASCAR track in the Northwest is between Arlington and Marysville.

Source: Seattle Times files