Public hearing set for May 12 on High Rock Raceway

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Steve Huffman
SPENCER ó Thursday’s meeting of the Spencer Board of Aldermen seemed to inspire members to believe the long-discussed High Rock Raceway might finally see the light of day.
They scheduled a public hearing on the development agreement between the town and officials with with raceway for 6 p.m. May 12 at Town Hall.
Dave Risdon, High Rock’s chief executive officer, told aldermen the track’s developer, Thomas Senenfelder of New York City’s TMS Inc., said financing is in place and grading for the facility might start in a little more than a month, providing the town throws its support to the work.
Risdon said the developer believes work on the track could start quickly. “He’s saying pretty darn soon,” Risdon said.
Asked for a more specific deadline, Risdon said, “My impression is before the start of June.”
Board members paused momentarily before Alderman Scott Benfield finally uttered a one-word response: “Cool.”
Aldermen held a called meeting Thursday to discuss the proposed agreement, fine-tuning the matter that has already been through the hands of attorneys. Aldermen said the 28-page agreement relieves the town of a number of liabilities pertaining to the race track. For instance, the agreement specifies track owners will be responsible for matters pertaining to water and sewer connections to the track.
Property easements will also be the track’s responsibility.
Officials said a copy of the proposed agreement will be available at Town Hall for residents interested in having a look before offering feedback next month. Because of the public hearing, aldermen agreed to kick back by an hour the start of their next regularly scheduled monthly meeting.
The agreement calls for a 20-year working relationship between the raceway and the town, though Spencer isn’t investing money in the track.
“We feel it’s a step in the right direction,” Risdon said of the agreement’s preliminary approval and scheduling of a public hearing.
He said his developer wants the agreement. “They want comfort that the town is going to work with them for the next 20 years,” Risdon said.
“If they’re going to commit, they want to know the town is committed.”
He said that in the years that plans for the track have played out, they’ve never had a developer before the recent partnership with Senenfelder. “That’s helped a lot,” Risdon said.
He said as part of the agreement, former employees of N.C. Finishing Inc., the textile plant that stood on the site, will be reimbursed any money they lost in the plant’s closing. Risdon said $87,000 owed the workers through past 401(k) contributions was reimbursed about six months ago. He said an additional $102,000 owed for two weeks of lost wages will be paid before dirt is moved at the site of the proposed track.
“It’s been a really long process,” Mayor Jody Everhart said. “I feel we might finally be on the verge of seeing something happen.”
Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Morris said Risdon and his counterparts showed their sincerity in seeing the track through by the agreement that was drawn by Anthony Fox, an attorney with the Charlotte law firm of Parker & Poe.
“They’ve got a significant amount of money invested,” Morris said.
A number of county leaders, including Rowan County Commissioner Raymond Coltrain, attended Thursday’s meeting. He said he attended as much out of curiosity as anything, and to show his support for the project.
“It’ll be a huge shot in the arm to this end of the county,” Coltrain said.
Rob Van Geons, executive director of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, also attended Thursday’s called meeting. He described the development agreement that aldermen discussed as “a team effort to get to the ultimate goal, which is supporting the project.”
Van Geons said the track would be “a huge shot in the arm” for the economic well-being of northern Rowan County, as well as the rest of the surrounding region.
Risdon said the development’s first phase, which includes the track and surrounding townhouses, will cost $30 million. The entire project, Risdon said, is expected to cost about $205 million.