By Eric C. Deines
A faltering economy and trouble in the auto industry have left discussions concerning an $80 million incentive package for improvements around Lowe’s Motor Speedway dormant for the time being.
“I’m not sure exactly where we go from here,” said Mayor Scott Padgett. “With the economy in such bad shape, it affects the city, the county and Speedway Motorsports Inc.”
In August, the City of Concord and Cabarrus County unveiled details of an $80 million incentive proposal for infrastructure improvement. The plan proposed that Speedway Motorsports would pay for most of the improvements up front, to be paid back to SMI over a 40-year period.
“The idea was for them to loan us money to build roads in that area…to benefit the speedway, Concord Mills, the hotels,” Padgett said. “We never had the intention of raising property taxes to pay that back. Even though things are at a standstill right now, the roads are still needed.”
Another factor related to the incentives, officials said, is the current crisis in the automobile manufacturing. The three big names are currently seeking a federal bailout.
“We’re all watching what’s happening with Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, because if they fail, their sponsorships pull out of NASCAR,” Padgett said.
The incentive package extends from disagreements Smith had with Concord over the recently completed drag strip at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, which led to Smith saying he would move his racing business out of the county.
To retain Smith’s facilities, Concord reversed its, and with Cabarrus County, committed to an $80 million incentive package to make infrastructure improvements around the speedway.
Padgett said there have been some preliminary discussions with Smith’s son, Marcus Smith, who was named president and general manager of Lowe’s Motor Speedway this year.
“But there is just nothing substantial to say right now,” Padgett said.
In November 2007, when the incentive package was first announced, Smith was clear as to his intentions to stay in Cabarrus County: “Mayor, I’ll tell you, we’re here forever,” Smith assured Concord Mayor Scott Padgett at the time. “It’s going to be onward and upward.”
At the 2007 event, Smith also announced plans to make $200 million in upgrades to the speedway facility — the upgrades upon which the proposed incentive package is based.
When the speedway presented its reply to Concord and the county’s detailed incentive package in September 2008, it omitted the sections requiring upgrades to the speedway.
• Contact reporter Eric C. Deines: 704-789-9141