County ends talks with raceway over moving fairgrounds


Alachua county commissioners Susan Baird, right, and Lee Pinkoson, shown in this Aug. 12, 2013 file photo, voted unanimously Tuesday to end negotiations with the National Hot Rod Association over relocating the fairgrounds to the Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville, which used to be known as the Gainesville Raceway.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 4:17 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 6:28 p.m.

Despite earlier hopes to move the Alachua County fairgrounds to the Auto Plus Raceway at Gainesville, the county will stick with its current site for a couple more years as it considers alternatives.

The County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to end negotiations with the National Hot Rod Association over moving the fairgrounds to the site off County Road 225, which used to be known as the Gainesville Raceway.

The board rejected an earlier counteroffer from the NHRA in July but agreed to continue negotiations. After the most recent talks, county staff advised the commission to end negotiations while the staff develops alternatives.

The county has an estimated $14.5 million available for use in developing the fairgrounds, according to a county report.

The raceway was an attractive option because of its on-site infrastructure, such as parking. Another possible location for the fairgrounds, a county-owned property on Waldo Road called the Weseman Tract, would require adding infrastructure that the raceway already has.

Site improvements for the Weseman Tract would cost an estimated $4.8 million.

After going through negotiations, however, it appears the cost of moving to the raceway would be comparable to the cost of developing the fairgrounds at the Weseman Tract, according to a county report. The cost of the raceway project was higher than the county envisioned under its request for letters of interest, for which the NHRA was the only respondent.

The NHRA also wanted the county to operate the fairgrounds, although the request for letters of interest stated the respondent — in this case, the NHRA — would be responsible for that.

Ramesh Buch, program manager for Alachua County Forever, mentioned the NHRA's request that the county extend Gainesville Regional Utilities' potable water service more than one mile along CR 225 as another significant issue during Tuesday's commission meeting.

GRU estimated the cost would exceed $2.5 million while the NHRA estimated it would cost $1.2 million, of which the organization was willing to pay half, according to a county report.

Some commissioners said they liked the prospect of moving the fairgrounds to the raceway but understood, based on how negotiations have gone, that it isn't the right move.

Commissioner Susan Baird said she could see the benefit of letting this idea go since it didn't turn out to be as simple and straightforward as commissioners had hoped.

"I think initially we all were pretty much excited there'd be a solution for something we've been looking at for a while now," she said.

Baird suggested the county consider making minor modifications to the current fairgrounds in the meantime since the county still will be hosting events there for at least the next couple years.

Buch agreed there are some issues, such as roof leaks, the county could deal with since it will be using the fairgrounds for a while longer.

Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson agreed that ending negotiations was for the best despite how promising the raceway seemed in the beginning.

"I was a big supporter of that as an option, but at this point I think we're doing the right thing," he said.

However, Hutchinson said he didn't want to spend a lot of additional money on the fairgrounds site because it's time to move on. The commission wants to redevelop the site as a business park.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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