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Council’s speedway deal provides best of both worlds

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 11:22 a.m. CST

In 2005, the Newton City Council took a gamble on the idea that a multi-million-dollar speedway in the midst of Iowa’s cornfields would pay off for our community, our county, our region and our state. And, by even the most stringent standards, there is little doubt that gamble paid off.

Thursday night, the Newton City Council was asked to take the community’s investment in the race track to the next level in the hopes Iowa Speedway could also move up to the next level. But the deal brokered and approved by councilors is anything but a gamble.

True, there is no guarantee that Iowa Speedway will get a Sprint Cup race. There is no guarantee it will keep the races it already has. But that is the nature of the motorsports promotion business: a lot of upfront investment with no guarantee of return.

There are many reasons to believe Iowa Speedway will soon get that coveted Sprint Cup race. Earlier in the day Thursday, ESPN motorsports columnist Terry Blount wrote about the need for changes with NASCAR’s signature series, and at the top of his list: Give Iowa a Cup race.

“[A]dd in one new venue at Iowa, a track that’s only four years old and has the size (seven-eighths of a mile), shape and banking that produces the best racing for Cup cars,” he wrote. He is not alone in that assessment; fans, team owners, NASCAR officials, and also the drivers have all said Iowa Speedway is one of the best places to race.

The biggest obstacle in the way now is the limitations of the existing facility. A Cup race would approximately double the number of spectators for a race. And, more people means a need for more of everything: seats, restrooms, concessions, parking and other amenities.

It costs money to install those, money the speedway is now working to accumulate. The deal the council signed off on Thursday night is one component in a broad array of efforts to make the funds available for these necessary upgrades, and it does so without costing taxpayers a single penny.

The ticket surcharge was an original component of the development deal for the speedway, but was phased out when voters in the city adopted a local-option sales tax. By reinstating it, the city will continue to pay down the bonds for the speedway infrastructure (roads, sewers, streetlights, etc.) and at the same time cut the speedway’s property tax bill effectively in half, freeing up operational revenue for improvements.

And, when the speedway gets that Cup race in the next few years, the surcharge could allow the City of Newton to reap a financial windfall.

The preceding represents the views of the Newton Daily News Editorial Board. Readers are encouraged to respond with letters to the editor.