Sunday, Dec 05

Historic racetrack at Nashville fairgrounds awaits its fate

Tuesday, Jan 11 3037

A critical vote will decide whether Nashville keeps its historic racetrack or demolishes it to make way for development. 

Although Mayor Karl Dean is delaying plans to relocate other events held at the city's fairgrounds, he supports tearing down the racetrack in favor of a public park.

Murky finances and unstable operations have plagued the Nashville Speedway for decades, but the issue of whether the track should stay open could be decided in 2011. Metro Council is considering a bill that, among other things, would clear the racetrack for a 40-acre park. The legislation is up for a public hearing and its second vote on Jan. 18.

Demolishing the racetrack is the next step in Dean's plans to redevelop the 117-acre fairgrounds property. Dean backtracked on his proposal to move the flea market and expo center to Hickory Hollow Mall but wants to move forward with tearing down the racetrack.

Racing fans started a petition drive to save the track last year through Metro Councilman Duane Dominy, who collected more than 40,000 signatures.

"It's the mecca of amateur racing, and it's the finest short track in the entire world," said two-time track champion Chad Chaffin, who launched his career in Nashville and climbed the ranks all the way up to NASCAR's senior circuit. "Its glory could be restored, if the city leaders would just realize what they have and invest in the track."

But some city leaders question whether the racetrack is a worthwhile investment. In 2010, Metro received $22,600 in rent from the racetrack's operator. Previous operator Straight Up Promotions still owes the city $27,500 in rent payments from the 2009 season. Besides financial concerns for its operations, some neighbors complain about the racetrack's noise.

"When you look at the revenue generated by the track, it's marginal," said Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling, one of Dean's top advisers. "There have been three or four operators in the last decade, and none of them have been able to keep it going on a sustainable basis. There's not a real market there for that."




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