Champ Car, IRL, eye domed oval (No NASCAR)

UPDATE #6 American developers planning to build a domed indoor race circuit in Plainfield, CN have received zoning approval for the project from the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. In a vote on Monday evening the panel voted 3-2 in favor of re-zoning a 900 acre site and including the land in a recently established "resort/recreational development zone." Opponents of New England Raceway LLC's 140,000-seat racetrack plan have vowed to appeal the commission's decision. NER developer Gene Arganese said he planned to move forward with the project despite the prospect of legal challenges. Six appeals have already been filed against the commission's approval last month of the new resort/recreational development zone. Arganese said he plans to have his consultants begin design work early next week. He said the design process should take about five months, and he intends to bring the plans before the commission by January 2006. The $343 million project would include the racetrack, a convention centre, a 700-room hotel and 800,000-square-foot retail complex. He hopes to attract NASCAR, Busch, Indy and Champ Car events to the New England Raceway track, along with drag races, concerts and trade shows. 02/27/05 This Republican-American article has more information about this indoor track. The biggest revelation is that NASCAR has told the developer it would not consider a race there. Bob Lang, the Northeast Regional Director of the National Hot Rod Association, said his drag racing series would bring at least one, maybe two, events to the arena. The Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series also have shown interest, according to Arganese. But the big, bad daddy of auto racing — NASCAR — recently told The Day of New London earlier this month that it will not host any events at the track. That means no Nextel Cup Series, Busch Series or Craftsman Truck races. Whether or not that changes if Arganese's project is built remains to be seen. 12/29/04 Plans for an indoor NASCAR racetrack in eastern Connecticut are being resurrected. Trumbull developer Gene Arganese, who last month saw his plans for a 140,000-seat domed track rejected by Plainfield's planning and zoning commission, has revised the proposal and resubmitted it. The zoning board accepted two new plans from Arganese Tuesday night and set public hearings for Feb. 3.

The proposals call for adding a provision in town regulations allowing resort-recreation districts and designating 130 parcels off Interstate 395 for inclusion in such a district. A majority of zoning board members ruled that the revised plans are substantially different from the original proposal. Without that ruling, Arganese would have had to wait one year before he could refile the plans. Commission member John Meyer and alternate Sue Hatfield argued that there were no significant changes. "The biggest change is that uses that would be allowed by right will now be allowed by special permit," Meyer said. "But, they're still the same uses."

Arganese is pushing the $343 million plan, which includes the domed racetrack, a convention center, a 700-room hotel and 800,000-square-foot retail complex. Arganese hopes to attract NASCAR, Busch National, Indy and CART events to the New England Raceway track, along with drag races, concerts and trade shows. While Arganese said he was pleased with the commission's decision on Tuesday, racetrack opponents were equally disappointed. "This plan has divided families and pitted neighbor against neighbor," Kenneth Smiley, president of the "Stop the Track" group, said. "Now, we have to go through it all again." Smiley said a recent announcement by International Speedway Corp., which owns or operates 11 of NASCAR's major tracks, that it has paid $100 million to buy land on Long Island for a racetrack "makes it clear NASCAR is not coming here."

12/03/04 The developer of a proposed racetrack here has filed a revised zone-change request less than two weeks after the Planning and Zoning Commission rejected his prior submission. This time the proposed “text amendment" would require that the commission approve a special permit before any project could be built in a commercial/entertainment zone. The prior request, which the commission rejected 3-2 on Nov. 18, contained no such requirement, meaning the commission would have had to approve any project that met the regulations.

The requirement for a special permit is a substantial change, Zoning Enforcement Officer Ryan Brais said. It also means any project proposed for the zone would be subject to a public hearing. It would also give the commission the authority to demand changes to the plan and broad power to reject it, Brais said. A substantial change was required to get the zoning proposal back on the commission's agenda. Without a substantial change, the applicant would have to wait a year. The new proposal will be placed on the agenda of the commission's Dec. 14 meeting, said Brais, who expects the commission to schedule a public hearing at that time, probably for January. The amended commercial/entertainment zone, located in the area of the Plainfield Greyhound Park, would allow a multitude of developments with the approval of a special permit. These would include enclosed stadiums, a car-racing facility, restaurants, campgrounds, nightclubs and other entertainment-related activities. More at The Day

11/20/04 We are downgrading this rumor to 'false.' NASCAR — or any other auto racing series — won't be coming to town anytime soon. This northeast Connecticut town's Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday night dealt a fatal blow to plans for an indoor, 100,000-plus seat auto racetrack and convention center, rejecting a change to local zoning regulations that would have allowed the development. Commissioners voted 3-2 against the zoning change at a special meeting attended by about 250 people. Trumbull developer Gene Arganese — who had initially proposed a track for North Stonington — had pushed the $343-million plan, which included the domed racetrack, convention center, a 700-room hotel and 800,000-square-foot retail complex. Arganese had hoped to attract NASCAR, Busch National, Indy and CART events to the New England Raceway track, along with drag races, concerts and trade shows. Planning and Zoning Commission Chairwoman Gloria Rizer cast the deciding vote against the zone change, joining members John Dubois and John Meyer. Dennis Jolley and Ron Boisse voted for the racetrack. Rizer said it was the hardest decision she had to make while serving on the board. She agonized for several minutes before voting. Commission members opposed to the racetrack said the proposal would not be consistent with the town's plan of conservation and development. Arganese looked stunned after the vote. "We're going to regroup and see what we do next," he said. "We have other towns in mind. We have a backup location." 11/15/04 A Citizens' group is criticizing plans to build a domed race track in Plainfield, saying job creation predictions cannot be relied on because no agreements have been reached with major racing organizations. Concerned Citizens for the Quiet Corner, one of three groups opposing the track, said information contained in a recent economic impact study isn't accurate because it assumes the track will lure high-profile Tier One racing events. "I would think they would have some sort of commitment in line for Tier One events, but, in reality, they don't have any," said the group's president, Dave Ertsgard. The study, prepared by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis at the University of Connecticut, predicts the track and surrounding facilities would provide a total of 6,145 jobs at the beginning, and the number would grow to 8,750 jobs by 2007. The survey predicted those jobs would decline to 5,910 by 2025. Ertsgard said 3,784 jobs would be construction jobs that would only last two years. He also said the facility could only support many of the permanent jobs if it got solid commitments for big racing events. 11/07/04 This The Day article says, New England Raceway, which once planned on building its track in North Stonington, expects its proposed stadium in Plainfield to host one NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race, two NASCAR Busch Series races or two Champ Car World Series (formerly CART) races, and two Indy Racing League races annually, according to a presentation made to the Planning and Zoning Commission in September and repeated in the economic impact study.

Arganese has no commitments from any racing organizations, a fact he says is not surprising given the project is in the early, planning stage. Representatives from the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League said they had not heard of the proposed track and had not been contacted by Arganese. NASCAR, the kingpin of car racing, says it has no interest.

“NASCAR has nothing to do with this man or his project," said NASCAR General Council Gary Crotty. Crotty sent letters to Arganese in December 2003 and June 2004 asking him to refrain from giving the impression NASCAR has any affiliation with the raceway proposal or any commitment to hold races there.

NASCAR has no plans to expand its Nextel Series or Busch Series schedules, Crotty said. If the organization moves any of its races to different venues, they would have to be state-of-the-art facilities located in major metropolitan areas in the northeast, not in towns the size of Plainfield, he said. “Whatever decisions people are making, don't make them depending on any expectation this track will ever hold a Nextel event," Crotty said.

Other race associations are keeping a more open mind. Though unfamiliar with the New England Raceway proposal until contacted by The Day, Champ Car World Series is interested in the idea, said Joe Chrnelich, executive vice president for development, government affairs and planning. He called the proposal “a huge vision."

Champ Car World Series wants to establish more East Coast races, and New England has population density, a strong corporate base, strong markets and “rabid sports fans," Chrnelich said. A domed track would make weather less of a concern for a New England track, he said.

Before Champ Car World Series would sign a contract for hosting a race at a venue like the one proposed by New England Raceway, the racing organization would have to be satisfied the project had the necessary government approvals, met the track and safety requirements of Champ Car races, was located in a viable market and had an experienced promoter, Chrnelich said.

The National Hot Rod Association says it is interested in the proposed raceway in Plainfield because it would include a drag strip. “There are no drag strips in Connecticut, Rhode Island or Massachusetts," said NHRA Northeast Division Director Bob Lang, who contacted Arganese after learning of his proposal.

But the organization has stopped short of committing to the track, declining to give Arganese a letter of commitment as the developer requested.

Indy Racing League executives have not been contacted by Arganese and were unfamiliar with the New England Raceway proposal until contacted by The Day last month. “We're certainly going to take a good, long, hard look at any facility that is built," said , said IRL spokesman John Griffin, declining to elaborate further on the point.

Indy Racing League is expanding its schedule, adding a 17th race to the 2005 season and hoping to hold as many as 20 races a year, Griffin said. Indy Racing League has occasionally awarded two racing events in one year to one venue. In 2004 Texas Motor Speedway hosted two of the organization's 16 events. The 2005 season features 17 races at 17 different tracks.

While Arganese has talked of also attracting concerts, trade shows and other events to his domed stadium, car racing is the critical component. A venue dependent on concerts, exhibitions and trade shows instead of racing may or may not be successful, Carstensen said, but there's no way to know unless such plans are studied.

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