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DES MOINES – The Sprint Car Capital of the World just might be getting a facelift.
Knoxville Raceway officials announced on Tuesday that a major improvement/expansion project at the famous dirt track – which hosts the Knoxville Nationals, considered the premiere Sprint Car race in the world – that would add a new entryway and skyboxes is moving closer to reality. Knoxville Raceway general manager/promoter Brian Stickel said that though there are still plenty of steps left in the process, the plan is taking shape.
“We’ve been talking about it for several years, an expansion,” Stickel said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “Really where we’re short during (the Knoxville) Nationals and Late Model Nationals is our suites, so (with the upgrade) we could sell those for our bigger events.
“It’s been awhile since we’ve had any major upgrades, and we felt it’s time. And if we’re going to make this happen in the next few years, we’re going to have to get started now.”
According to the release from the track, the plans being considered are for a four-story building to be placed on the southeast corner of the track, next to the frontstretch grandstand and adjacent to the main entrance for spectators. The building would replace the Skate Pit, a skating rink, which is currently located in that spot.
An entry plaza and skywalk to the existing grandstands, additional skyboxes, a rooftop terrace, raceway offices, and retail space are all options being considered as components of the new structure.
Stickel said the project is aimed at improving both fan experience as well as functionality for the speedway, all while keeping costs to the fans unchanged.
“It’s a combination of both, really,” Stickel said. “We have what we consider the biggest and best dirt track in the world, and we want to keep it that way. We want this building to be kind of a showcase for dirt tracks around the world.
“There will be some cool stuff inside (for fans), and we want to make the ticketing experience a little better, where the lines are shorter and getting tickets is a little easier. And then the entrance as well, we want it to be a little grander.”
As with many large-spectator facilities in Iowa, money from the state is needed to fully fund the project.
Stickel said the track has been saving money, but needs the extra funds to complete the estimated $4 to 6 million project. The track dispatched longtime employee Dave Schrader to the state house to request the help, and he relayed back that said request has been met positively.
The proposal is making its way through the legislative process, and track officials don’t anticipate much resistance based on what they’ve heard.
“A critical component of our project, some help in the form of funding assistance from the state, is appearing likely, thanks to great support from our legislators, Representative Greg Heartsill and Senator Amy Sinclair,” Marion County Fair Board President Jason Reed said in a news release.
Schrader reported back to Knoxville officials that the majority of legislators prefer a sales tax rebate as the way to provide the funding. Similar methods have been used for the Iowa Speedway and Field of Dreams in Dyersville.
Stickel said the rebate would be limited to five cents and would not include the local option penny or the penny dedicated to schools, and only sales tax on the revenue created by the race track would be used to fund the project.
The legislation being drafted would allow the sales tax rebate to run for 10 years and would limit the amount to $2 million, and no more than 25 percent of the total cost of the project.
“We’re limited to the 25 percent, so if it’s a $6 million project, we’d get $1.5 million (from the state),” Stickel said. “This is out of the tax revenues we generate. The seven cents collected in taxes (on transactions), five cents of that will come back to us in this proposal. That way (Marion) county and the school will still get their money.”
The project is just the next step in a years-long goal of serving a loyal fanbase – Knoxville Raceway had more than 211,000 visitors in 2013 – and is hoped to help draw even more fans to the historic track.
Some minor facility upgrades that Stickel said must precede the entryway building plans are set for this season. The changes, he said, should improve aesthetics and logistics on busy race weekends.
“This year, 2014, we’re looking at tearing down that ugly quonset building we have on the backstretch to build two new buildings. One to house our ambulences and maintenance, the other to house the rest of our equipment – graters and so forth,” Stickel said. “That’ll make things more aesthetically pleasing, but also more functional as well, where guys can work on equipment. Right now the ambulences have to come out of the infield and battle traffic when the races are over, so if we put them on the back stretch, they’ll have a more functional area as well.
“Some of these steps we have to put in place before we can do any other major infrastructure improvements.”