By Tyler Francke - Branson Tri-Lakes News
FORSYTH — "We're looking at a top-notch, first-class racing facility," said Tom Gammon, the director of development and construction for a proposed $150 million racetrack in Taney County. "Our team that we've put together is absolutely the best."
Gammon appeared before the Taney County Planning Commission Monday night, with Robert Stockdale of Buxton Kubik Dodd Creative architecture firm and Spencer Jones of Great River Engineering, to deliver a presentation on the racetrack project, christened the Branson Sports Entertainment Complex.
The concept hearing, the first of three steps in obtaining a special land use permit in Taney County, was the first opportunity for the public to hear details of the planned 65,000-seat stadium and racing complex.
For some of the principal designers, it was also a chance to set the record straight.
"I want to be really clear: We are not NASCAR," Gammon said. "We're an independent track and an independent facility."
Gammon added that while the complex's officials do hope to attract "major sanctioning bodies" to host races at their track, they are a long way from obtaining the necessary approval.
Still, several members of the management and design teams for the three-quarter-mile asphalt track planned near the junction of U.S. 65 and Missouri 86 have experience working on tracks many NASCAR fans would recognize.
This includes the complex's director of business development Curtis Gray, who was president of Homestead Miami Speedway for nine years, Bob Carlson of DLR Group, whose racetrack design experience includes the Kansas Speedway, and Chris Eales of HNTB Corporation.
"Chris has extensive experience in racetrack design," Stockdale said at Monday's hearing. "If you look at any modern racetrack here in the United States, by and large, Chris is responsible for the pavement design and geometry of the track."
Stockdale said the project will be built on an 800-acre tract of land owned by Russell Cook, the complex's co-founder and "visionary," with possible future plans that would enlarge the project to 1,400 acres.
Stockdale said the stadium could house as many as 100,000 people in the stands and infield and will include luxury suites, an underground concessions concourse, welcome plaza, garages for race teams and TV broadcast studios.
Gammon said the complex is planned to remain open at least 200 days a year and will cater to events large and small. In addition to stock car racing, it will be able to facilitate motorcross and motorcycle stunts, go-cart races, trade shows, car clubs, vehicle test driving, concerts and other community events.
"We see it as a great economic engine for Taney County," Gammon said. "We really are a fan-friendly, family-focused facility. We don't want any gambling or anything like that."
Gammon estimated that the track's construction alone would generate 2,600 jobs in Missouri, including workers in the cement and lumber plants that would produce the raw materials. The complex is planned to host its first event in the spring of 2013.
Complex representatives touched on a number of topics with the planning commission, including water and sewer facilities, security, noise and transportation.
At full capacity, management would need to move an estimated 26,000 vehicles into and out of the track, which they think would require three new interchanges built along U.S. 65.
A bill the racetrack team supports that would allow private entities to be reimbursed by the state for new infrastructure improvements has gone to the governor's desk. However, a Missouri Department of Transportation official said last month there is "no way" MoDOT could provide the estimated $70 million for which this project calls.
Shawn Pingleton, the planning commission's new chairman, said after the presentation that the project's approval was no sure thing.
"This is not a rubber-stamp deal at this point," Pingleton told the racetrack team. "Just because all this work has been done and all this money has already been spent, that doesn't mean we're automatically going to say yes."
Gammon said representatives would appear before the commission again for a public hearing in July, where neighboring land owners will be given the opportunity to speak. He said management would be meeting with area officials, business leaders and neighbors before that hearing takes place.
After the public hearing, the project will come before the commission a final time, when a decision will be made on whether or not to issue the special use permit.