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Officials confident speedway measure will benefit local area

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By Dave Taylor

Area government leaders have high expectations for new legislation signed into law by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, which provides incentives for business expansion in the state. The new measure, in part, offers tax credits for growth at nearby Kentucky Speedway in Gallatin County. Speedway officials are planning a major expansion project at the facility in connection with luring a race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup season schedule. The result could be a sizable economic trickle-down for Carroll and other surrounding counties, according to Carroll County Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson.

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A Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway “could produce some much needed revenue for this area,” Tomlinson said. “The possibility of more hotels and restaurants in Carroll County, I believe that to be true. You could also have several spinoff ventures such as sports shops and things like that open up.”

Against the backdrop of Victory Lane at the Kentucky Speedway, Gov. Beshear on Wednesday, July 8, ceremoniously signed House Bill 3, which gives the state its best shot yet at attracting a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. Area legislators representing Gallatin and other counties in northern Kentucky, and Ky. Rep. Rick Rand (D-Bedford) were on hand to witness the ceremonial signing. HB 3, passed during the recent special session of the legislature, was officially signed into law by the governor on June 26.

The original developers of the speedway initially looked to possibly locate in Carroll County, Tomlinson said. A local tourism representative visited a number of similar sites that host major NASCAR events, he added. “We learned that the most new development was not right where the speedway was located, but more like within a 15- to 25-mile area from the track. That puts Carroll County in a very advantageous position,” Tomlinson said.

While introducing Tomlinson and Rand, who represents Carroll, Trimble, Henry and part of Oldham counties and serves as chairman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said, “I appreciate all the talks we’ve had with officials we’ve had in our neighboring counties. This legislation will benefit all of us.”

The measure, estimated at $75 million, is intended to increase incentives that encourage the expansion of existing businesses and benefits not only the speedway but businesses all over the state, according to Rand.

“The centerpiece of this legislation is needed to go to existing businesses in Kentucky and help them expand,” Rand said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of attracting new businesses to the state, but we’ve gotten poor marks from businesses already here about not doing enough to help them expand. I’m really excited about the opportunities I think it’s going to bring.”

“The speedway is not the only thing that’s in that bill,” Tomlinson affirmed. “There are tax advantage incentives for the CSX railroad, and incentives for people who want to purchase an automobile. There are a number of things in that bill that will help the economy.”

The legislation – proposed by the governor during the recently completed special legislative session – includes a provision to amend the Kentucky Tourism Development Act to add a new eligible category of so-called “legacy expansion” projects, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Legacy expansion projects must conduct events that are in the top league, series or sanctioned level or their type of event, provide permanent seating for 65,000 spectators and be broadcast nationally. The venue must have previously been approved for incentives and the expansion project must exceed $30 million and present one or more “premier events” not previously held in Kentucky.

Under one provision of the document the Kentucky Speedway could be eligible for as much as $36.7 million in sales tax credits over the next 20 years. O. Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc., owner of Kentucky Speedway, plans $75 million in improvements at the facility and says the tax break will help with the expansion. The tax credits, however, are contingent on a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race being held at the track.

Smith previously stated that passage of the legislation would put Kentucky in position to host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, that sanctioning body’s top racing competition level. Smith has said he plans to expand seating at the track from 69,000 to 119,000, expand parking and make other improvements to the garage and pit road facilities.

“At our last (NASCAR Nationwide Series) race we had a record crowd,” Smith said. “Not every speedway can say that. We’re going to make so many changes here that you’re bound to like some of them!”

“Attracting a NASCAR Sprint Series Cup race to Kentucky would be a huge economic win,” Beshear said. “NASCAR is not only the number one spectator sport in the United States, it also attracts an international audience through its broadcast in more than 150 countries and 30 languages.

“The economic impact of a Sprint Cup race here has been estimated at over $200 million,” Beshear said. Because of the economic rewards to this region, “the Commonwealth is dedicated to helping Kentucky Speedway expand.”

Once the speedway officially lands a Sprint Cup race, Rand sees a tremendous amount of growth in counties neighboring Gallatin County.

“I think for Carroll County and other counties along I-71 we’ll be seeing a huge development along the interstate interchanges,” he said. “It should really help Butler Park and the other hotel and restaurant facilities in Carrollton.”

“How soon we get a race all hinges on the decision of the courts on July 30,” Smith said, referring to a antitrust lawsuit filed against NASCAR by previous owners of the speedway.

Smith and SMI own seven tracks across the country that host Sprint Cup races. Smith said he believes Kentucky Speedway, with the extensive upgrades he is planning, could be home to a Sprint Cup race in the near future.

“I appreciate the confidence Gov. Beshear and the legislature have shown in SMI and Kentucky Speedway,” said Smith. “I promise you it is not misplaced.

“In the time I have spent here in Kentucky I’ve come to realize that racing is like a second religion to the people of this state,” Smith said. “I believe this because I’ve met so many people here. Racing is a great business. I’m involved in several businesses but I have a lot of passion for the racing business. I think Speedway Motorsports works harder than anyone else in the business. It’s onward and upward, we’re going to do great things here.”

Smith thanked the governor and each of the legislators present “for pushing and shoving and getting this thing through.”

“I am very excited about the possibility of a Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway and the impact it will bring not just to Gallatin County but to the entire region,” said Ky. Rep. Royce Adams (D-Dry Ridge), who represents Gallatin, Owen and Grant counties.

“This is a great day for the entire region,” said Ky. Sen. John Schickel (R-Union), whose district includes Gallatin, Boone and Kenton counties. “Owner Bruton Smith has a history of making things happen and I am confident he will bring a Sprint Cup race to this facility. Having a world class sporting event right here in Northern Kentucky is very exciting.”