A state-of-the-art motorsports track complex, envisioned to attract the biggest names in racing, is being proposed for 400 acres in the Big Lake area.
The $200 million facility would be built for 90,000 fans and could expand to more than 150,000, said the developer, International Motorsports Entertainment and Development Corp. of Coon Rapids.
The complex would be financed privately by partners whom corporation president Jim Farnum declined to divulge. "We're not asking for a dime" of public money, he said, adding that he hopes to attract funding from Minnesota corporations.
Government officials in Big Lake and neighboring Big Lake Township said they are aware of the proposal, but no formal presentations have been made.
Also no hearings have been scheduled. Farnum said he expects to go before city and township officials sometime this year.
As conceived, the complex would have a -mile-high banked paved oval, a 1-mile flat paved oval, a quarter-mile drag strip, a 3/8-mile oval dirt track and a 100,000-square-foot exhibition and convention center.
Open space, rail line
If financing is secured, bureaucratic requirements are met and races lined up, the facility could have its first full season by 2011, said Farnum, adding that the International Motorsports Entertainment and Development Corp. was formed in 2006 for the sole purpose of building this complex.
As for the land, situated in Big Lake Township about 40 miles northwest of Minneapolis, Farnum said, "I have a purchase agreement for that already."
The Big Lake area was attractive, developers and government officials agree, because of the open space and the Northstar commuter rail line, which will run from Big Lake to Minneapolis and make it easy for fans from the Twin Cities metro area to attend races. The line is scheduled to open by the end of 2009.
Farnum, 54, said it's his intent for the complex to attract "at the highest levels possible" drivers in stock, road race, drag racing and open wheel (Indy style).
NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp, while unfamiliar with the corporation's proposal, said the nation's largest sanctioning body of stock-car racing is always looking for opportunities to run its races in new locations. As an example, Tharp said, the 7/8-mile oval in Newton, Iowa, will get its first NASCAR national touring event in 2009.
Tom Ryan, owner of Elko Speedway for the past eight years, said he was approached to buy shares in the project and declined.
"I don't think it's viable," said Ryan, whose track hosts races in NASCAR's fifth-ranked series. "I don't know what kind of races they would ever expect to get there. ... I don't think there is the interest [in this part of the country] to support a race track for real hard-core racing."
Economy kills venture
In 1991, Farnum founded Pro Motorsports out of his Brooklyn Park basement. The racing merchandise business grew into a multimillion-dollar venture that also sponsored racers and counted a spot in the Mall of America among its 13 stores in the Midwest. Swings in the economy roiled the business, and it eventually filed for Chapter 7 (liquidation) bankruptcy last fall.
Even though the complex would be in Big Lake Township, the neighboring city of Big Lake would most likely provide sewer and water services, said City Planner Katie Larsen.
"This project is in such infancy," she said. "There's been no formal application with the city. ... We've seen ideas, concepts."
Larsen said the city has had "some internal meetings" with the developers and anticipates "we're going to have numerous public hearings."
Traffic, noise are key issues
The two leading issues to address, Larsen said, "right off the bat are traffic and noise. How are we going to get people there?"
Township Chairman Jim Sanford said, "We have to get our public hearing with our residents" as part of the approval process. "They haven't presented anything to us [including] if they're going to do something about the traffic and the noise."
Larsen said a complex of this magnitude would redefine the Big Lake area and give it a national profile.
"If you were to tell me that my Big Lake would become associated with Daytona 500, I would tip over," she said.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482