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SoCal Hal
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Site plan calls for 6 tracks to anchor Prichard motorparkSunday, May 13, 2007By KATHY JUMPERReal Estate Editor

Six racetracks will anchor the $624 million motorsports and entertainment park on Alabama 158 off Interstate 65 in Prichard, according to the site plan investors recently submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Construction could start in early 2008 on Alabama Motorsports Park, A Dale Earnhardt Jr. Speedway, if the permits are approved, said Bill Futterer of PSE-3, a Raleigh, N.C., marketing firm working on the project.

"The permitting process from the corps could take a year, but we hope less than that," he said.

The tracks should be operating by the first quarter of 2010, he said.

NASCAR Nextel Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is helping design the oval course at the motorsports park, and his stepbrother, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Kerry Earnhardt, is helping on the design of the complex as well, particularly the fishing venues on the 30 acres of lakes.

The corps will study how the motorsports park will impact the 3,000-acre site, which includes some wetlands, according to park investors.

"Every road that we build through Mobile County faces the same process, and so does every major development," said former Mobile Mayor Mike Dow, president of the investor group, Gulf Coast Entertainment LLC.

Two race venues have been added to the original plans for the park: go-cart and motocross tracks.

"They are relatively inexpensive to produce, and we think the response from families will be very strong," Futterer said.

The other tracks include a 7/10-mile, lighted oval track; a -mile dirt track; a 3.5-mile road course; and a quarter-mile drag strip.

"Our plan is to have events 190 days a year, and we're the only park with six tracks," Dow said.

The complex will also feature entertainment venues such as music halls similar to those in Branson, Mo.; a 7,000-seat indoor arena; a water or theme park; an industrial park; up to 5,000 spaces for recreational vehicles; and numerous retail stores, restaurants and hotels.

"We have a Disney-esque type of vision for this," Futterer said. "The look will be controlled so that it fits with the project and to keep the aesthetics as pleasing as they should be."

The race track design is also similar to the Disney theory of making the park walkable, according to Rick Skelton, an Atlanta-based investor in the park and himself a driver and car owner in the Grand American Road Racing Association.

"You can park your car and walk to all the events" at the motorsports park, he said.

Race City will be located near the tracks, except for the dirt track, and will feature race-themed stores and restaurants, and possibly a race museum, he said.

Skelton worked on the race track sites with HOK Sport of Kansas City, Kan., a national designer of sports facilities; Thompson Engineering in Mobile; and park investor John McInnis III of the McInnis Corp. in Montgomery.

The hardest thing about the track design was working around the wetlands and making sure everything fit, Skelton said.

"For example, you can't face a drag strip east-west, because you're looking into the sun," he said. "It needs to go north-south. Some things barely fit. But we couldn't eliminate tracks. That's our niche, and that's what makes this unique, having courses for arrive-and-drive and testing."

Skelton said the 3.5-mile road course was designed by Clive Bowen of APEX Cicruit Design Ltd., based in the U.K. "You can run three separate events at the same time on the road course," he said. Other APEX projects include the Formula 1 track in Dubai, the Iceland MotoPark and Hampton Downs Circuit in New Zealand.

The investors now plan to focus on the architectural and construction documents, plus permanent financing, Dow said. The investors are talking with several major hotel and shopping center developers about buying or leasing land to build in the commercial areas.

Gulf Coast Entertainment had planned to vie for Bass Masters fishing tournaments, but about 7,000 acres of lakes is needed for that, according to Futterer.

Instead, the group contracted a year ago with TWI-Sports, an independent producer and distributor of sports programming, which is working on made-for-TV events for the motorsports park. One example might be celebrity pro-am fishing tournaments on the lakes, according to Futterer.

TWI is a subsidiary of IMG, a worldwide sports, entertainment and media company.

Earnhardt Jr.'s schedule has been filled with Nextel Cup Series demands, but Kerry Earnhardt has made numerous trips to Alabama for the motorsports park, Futterer said.

"Kerry will be more and more visible with a lot of public activities over the next six to nine months," he said.
 

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Wow... construction to only take 2 years? That's pretty hard to imagine given the magnitude of the development. What other hurdles have to be cleared in order for construction to start?
 
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