by JACOB H. FRIES & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & s far as anyone can recall, it was the largest public hearing in the history of Spokane County. More than 500 people crammed into a room at the Fair & amp; Expo Center last month and spent the next four hours discussing the future of Spokane Raceway Park.
Depending on your angle, the land itself isn't much to look at -- 570 acres spread across Airway Heights including a rock quarry and an aging, cracked 2.5-mile road course. But as anyone interested in the property will tell you, it's not about what the land is like now, but what it could become down the road.
Among the possibilities still being floated: a future expansion site of Northern Quest Casino; a soccer complex; a training center for the Sheriff's Office; and, not surprisingly, a revamped racetrack with full-service amenities. In the end, it could become all those things -- or none of them -- depending on how next Thursday's auction shakes out.
"We've had inquiries nationally, internationally, regionally and locally. The way the property will be configured for sale has attracted a lot of people," says Barry Davidson, a court-appointed receiver, who had the property divided into 13 separate parcels. The auction will be held at the downtown DoubleTree Hotel, and proceeds will go to settle claims by some 600 raceway partners who sued in 2003 saying they were defrauded out of $2.5 million.
Alabama-based J.P. King Auction Company is handling the sale, which has been promoted in several newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal. The property has also received prominent placement on the company's Website. "The incredible growth in all types of motor sports has created unprecedented opportunities for tracks throughout the United States, and Spokane Raceway Park is ideally positioned to take advantage of the trend," the listing says.
J. Craig King, president of the company, said several private racing organizations have expressed interest in the track, but he would not name them or say how serious their inquiries were.
"At this point," says King, "I'd say it's a toss-up if the racetrack will continue to be operated as a racetrack."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he vast majority of people at last month's hearing urged the county to buy the land and operate it as a racing facility, County Commissioner Bonnie Mager says. A study done last year suggested a county-owned track, along with various amenities, could pay for itself and perhaps even earn a little extra cash. The commission is meeting again this week to discuss its options, but Mager says an initial assessment of the property raised some questions about environmental contamination. The county is now trying to determine if it has enough time to complete a more thorough examination before the auction.
"I'm concerned," Mager says. "I wouldn't risk my own money on property that I wasn't completely confident was clean."
The Sheriff's Office is also eyeing the property as a possible site for a regional training center with classrooms, driving course and shooting range. As it stands, the agency has to rent out space, often at the Deer Park or Geiger airports, when it wants to conduct certain vehicle trainings. It also has to send deputies around the country for courses that -- with more space -- they could put on here, drawing law enforcement officers to the area where they would spend money on hotels and restaurants, Undersheriff Jeff Towers says.
"Right now, we have to beg, borrow and steal places so we can do training," he says. "There's nothing we can count on well into the future."
Towers says the Sheriff's Office has told the county about its designs for some of the land, but is taking a "wait and see approach," depending on how the auction goes.
The same goes for the Kalispel Tribe, which owns Northern Quest Casino as well as other lands nearby. Tribal executives have previously said they were interested in some of the property, but last week, a spokeswoman declined to speak in specifics.
"We're watching with interest," spokeswoman April Pierre said. "There's been no decision made at this point. We're just watching."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Spokane Raceway Park was originally built in the 1970s after Orville Moe, who operated the Deer Park Drag Strip in the 1960s, sold about $2.5 million in stock to investors and made them limited partners in the venture. The park's first race was run in 1974, the same year that Spokane played host to the World's Fair.
For the next 30 years, the park held races every weekend from April to October, drawing thousands of people to Spokane, sustaining the operation, but never quite making enough money, Moe said, to pay off investors or their heirs. In 2003, some of those investors -- including estranged relatives of Moe -- sued, claiming he mismanaged their money.
Later, in 2005, a judge appointed Davidson as receiver to supervise the park's finances. The following year, the judge fired Moe as general manager, saying he was attempting to thwart Davidson's efforts, and banned him from the grounds. Then last September, Moe went on trial, accused of bribing the former mayor of Airway Heights. A federal judge dismissed the charges.
Next Thursday's auction is designed to bring in as much money as possible for the track's investors. Potential buyers will first bid on individual parcels of land. Then they will have an opportunity to bid on different groups of parcels or the entire lot. "At the end of the day, the property will go in the manner that brings the most money," King says.
It's unclear how much Parcel No. 1 -- the 198-acre lot that includes the various racing tracks -- might bring. "The range is so wide," King says. "We don't really know what the result will be."
Following the auction, Davidson will return to court and ask a judge to officially approve the sale of the land.
In the end, whether the raceway will be brought back to life, or made into something entirely new, it's interesting to consider all the things that could rise on this swath of land just west of Spokane. As the auction listing says, "this development is suitable for retail, office space, casinos, entertainment, hotel/motel, restaurants, resorts and much more!"
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