Fairground sale on commission agenda

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

ThunderWorld USA owner Kevin Coffey apparently wants to bring racing back to Smoky Mountain Speedway. Coffey has submitted a proposal to Blount County Industrial Board to buy the former track from the county for $840,000.

The Fairgrounds committee unanimously recommended that the Blount County Commission approve the deal after about an hour of discussion with Coffey Tuesday night, Jan. 16 at the Blount County Courthouse. The action places the item on the commission agenda for Thursday’s commission meeting.

Blount County Commission approved purchase of the land, located at 809 Brickmill Road, in January, 2006, for $785,000 to use to build a county fairgrounds.

The purchase price of $820,000 proposed by Coffey would be reduced $7,000 per year for six years if the new owner meets certain stipulations, bringing the purchase price to $785,000,

According to the proposal, the county would title the property to the Industrial Development Board. Coffey would pay $125,000 down, and the board would finance the property at 0 percent interest for a five-year period with a balloon payment of $470,714.29 due at the end of the five-year period. The board will entertain up to a two-year extension if Coffey cannot obtain financing. Payments will be $56,071.43 per year.

Coffey is required to make necessary improvements to operate the facility in a safe manner and in accordance with deed restrictions. If these conditions are met during the first six years of ownership, the board will reduce the purchase price of the property by $7,000 from the established payments. If these conditions are not met or Coffey decides to sell or discontinue current use of the property, the remaining mortgage amount is due to the board.

During the session, Coffey, 40, told commissioners he didn’t plan to sell alcohol at the track during racing events. He also agreed to accept all insurance liability and all environmental liability.

Coffey said he has been a race fan all his life. "I don’t think I’ve missed many since (I was 2 weeks old). It has always been my passion. I’ve recently had back surgery, so that’s slowed me from driving," he said. "I had been working on this proposal for several months and wasn’t looking to do anything immediately."

Coffey said it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that the county bought the track as a fairgrounds. His research showed that any fairgrounds needs a money-making venue to make it viable.

"You can’t just pay debt service. You need some event weekly or monthly to support the property," he said. "I thought the racing and fairgrounds would possibly go good together. "

When the owners of Atomic Speedway off Interstate 40 in Roane County sold their track recently to a trucking company, several individuals called Coffey complaining that local businesses that supported by the two tracks were in trouble. Coffey said approximately 130 jobs were supported in this area by racing at the two tracks.

"I thought I could speed up my efforts and make something happen right way," he said. "If we let racing die for one year, it’s going to be that much more difficult (to bring back)."

Coffey said he met with commissioners and County Mayor Jerry Cunningham. Because the law prohibits the county from directly dealing with him regarding buying the property, he worked with the Industrial Development Board to see if something could be worked out. Coffey suggested a partnership between himself and the county as opposed to traditional financing.

"I’m giving $125,000 down on the property. My biggest investment is going to be bringing the facility up to insurance requirements. If I had to get financing through the bank, you would have to put $200,000 to $300,000 down and another $200,000 to $300,000 into the facility, and it wouldn’t work," he said.

By entering into a partnership with the county, Coffey said the cash flow at the track would allow him to make the payments and still run the business.

Cunningham said Coffey has been the only person who approached the county about purchasing the track.

"When I ran for office, probably 95 to 98 percent of voters I talked to implored me to work out an arrangement where the county could divest itself of the property," Cunningham said. "I started working on it the day I entered office. I realize it doesn’t make the county whole immediately, but it does over a period of time."

Cunningham said he supported the idea of a fairground, just not on the former Speedway site.

"I totally support the concept of a fairground, and I understand there was dialog between the county and the Aluminum company, and I hope to open up that dialog again with our wonderful corporate neighbors with the possibility of donating, leasing or buying acreage for fairgrounds in a location better suited to be a revenue producer," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said he would like to find acreage with access to Pellissippi Parkway and near restaurants and lodging. If the commission chose to accept the proposal, Cunningham said he would like to explore the possibility of developing a fairground that would fund itself through revenue.

According to the proposal, Coffey would agree to:

  • Work with the county fairgrounds committee to determine what type of events would be held for the county at the Speedway site, such as tractor shows, tractor pulls, 4-H events;
  • Host any event the county desired at no charge to the county;
  • Provide signage for the county fair, pay insurance and utilities for county events;
  • Hold the owner’s own weekly events seasonally;
  • Use the facility only one night per week during the summer season and allow the county to plan events for the other six days of the week;
  • Use the facility any night of the week with proper planning, receive all ticket and concession sales at the county events and allow the county to have first option if the property is ever sold.
  • Follow a strict policy of keeping any loud events from going past 11:30 p.m. with a 30-minute variance;
  • Require participants at weekly racing events to use mufflers to improve noise pollution
  • Install noise and privacy screens on its property line adjacent to concerned neighbors
  • Honor the previous owners contract with area neighbors regarding fireworks and event completion times.

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