Racetrack finds backer in Olympia
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Despite near-unanimous opposition from local legislators, a Florida-based racetrack developer is continuing its latest push for a state-subsidized NASCAR track in Kitsap County.
It appears the International Speedway Corp. (ISC) is close to clearing a big hurdle. After the group last year failed to find a lawmaker willing to sponsor its proposal, Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, said Thursday he probably will introduce a bill next week.
Meanwhile, the racetrack promoters are finding support in some surprising places.
Rep. Hans Dunshee, typically an outspoken opponent of taxpayer-funded sports stadiums, said he thinks the project "pencils out" for the state.
"I think they've got a reasonable financing package," said Dunshee, D-Snohomish. "The numbers say that it would be profitable for the state."
The company wants to build a $345 million track to hold two or three races per year.
The state would pay nearly half the cost through increased sales-tax collections that the 83,500-seat track is projected to generate. ISC would pay most of the rest, with the balance coming from an admissions tax on race tickets.
Dunshee said he considered sponsoring the bill but decided that was too big of a commitment.
"I've just got too much to do," said Dunshee, who recently took over as vice chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Dunshee also took a lot of heat from legislators who represent the Kitsap Peninsula, nearly all of whom oppose the racetrack proposal.
Rep. Sherry Appleton said she was offended that fellow Democrats were pushing the bill.
"Why would they do that?" asked Appleton, D-Poulsbo. "I would never try to put a facility in [their] district if I knew there was so much opposition. ... We don't want it in Kitsap County."
Appleton said she and a half-dozen other local lawmakers oppose the project primarily for "quality of life" reasons, such as increased congestion on ferries and local highways.
She also said she doesn't believe the project makes fiscal sense for the state.
ISC Vice President Grant Lynch this week sent a mass e-mail to supporters, urging them to help pressure the Kitsap-area legislators with phone calls and e-mails.
Some powerful politicians from the area already are backing the proposal.
U.S. Reps. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, and Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, came out in favor of it last year.
Dicks called Dunshee this week and urged him to keep pushing the proposal.
Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman, another supporter, announced last week the city might annex the proposed racetrack site.
ISC has been pushing since 2004 for a racetrack in Washington. After initial plans for a track in Snohomish County fell through, the group set its sights on Kitsap County.
Company officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Dunshee said there has been some discussion about looking for yet another location. But he said it would have to be somewhere near a lot of hotels, because a large portion of the fans would be from out of state.
Dunshee said he thinks most people in the Puget Sound area probably would support the racetrack.
"I think lots of people would think it's a hoot," he said.
Ralph Thomas: 360-943-9882 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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