Riding high after the triumph of Davidson County’s fairgrounds referendum, Metro Councilman Duane Dominy asked the Metro fair board Tuesday to deliver a “letter of inquiry” to NASCAR requesting the entity explore what it would take to return its racing series to the Fairgrounds Speedway.
Tuesday’s meeting marked the first Metro Board of Fair Commissioners gathering since Davidson County citizens overwhelmingly voted Aug. 4 to approve a Metro Charter amendment that makes it more difficult to pursue the redevelopment of the 117-acre property.
Coupled with the closure of Nashville Superspeedway in Wilson County, Dominy believes now is the opportunity to explore new opportunities for the speedway. NASCAR held two premier Cub Series events at the track until 1984.
“I would encourage you at the earliest opportunity to actually do some sort of letter of — at the very least — inquiry so that you can have those entities come out here and identify what can be done, what it would cost and what benefit it might be for the city,” Dominy told commissioners.
Dominy, re-elected to his Antioch-area council seat four weeks ago, also requested a “letter of inquiry” be delivered to the Electric Vehicle Cup series to explore its potential use of the Fairgrounds Speedway.
The commonly called “EV Cup,” which utilizes quiet, environmentally friendly eclectic vehicles, is currently held at two United States locations. Prior to Dominy’s request, a local resident gave an informal “EV Cup” presentation to the board. No vote was taken.
For 2011, the board has contracted NASCAR driver Bobby Hamilton Jr. to hold racing events at the track.
A formal proposal submitted by racing Nashville enthusiast Shane Smiley requests the board contact NASCAR about future racing at the speedway.
Katy Varney, who chairs the board, said a vote on Smiley’s request would go before the five-member commission at its next meeting. However, she cautioned that a forthcoming fairgrounds master plan is already going to analyze future racing at the speedway. A company still isn’t hired to lead the master plan.
“The question that they’re asking is a question that will be asked and answered in the master plan,” Varney said. “Their request is to do this on a separate, parallel and faster track than what they believe the master plan track will be.”
The fair board held a special meeting Tuesday not to consider racing opportunities, but to deliberate on increasing fees charged to expo center and flea market vendors. In the end, a vote wasn’t taken after the meeting ran more than two hours and number crunching wasn’t finalized.
Bruce Cowan, a consultant from the firm Maximus Inc., told commissioners the level of revenues coming in under the current model isn’t sustainable to break even. Last year, the cost to maintain the expo center exceeded incoming revenues by $488,000.
Using a graph, Cowan showed revenues have sharply nose-dived since 2007.
“You need more money,” he said. “You need some sort of offset. Something has to make money in order to offset those things that lose money. Otherwise, the expo center is going to sink.”
According to Cowan, the flea market is adequately generating enough revenues to stay afloat. Thus, Maximus recommended marginal flea market fee increases, averaging between $10 and $25 hikes to use various buildings.
But he said the expo center is losing money with its corporate sales. His company has recommended substantial fees in this area. For example, renting the banquet hall for corporate events would jump from $925 to $2,249; the creative arts building, from $1,725 to $3,984; and the sports arena, from $975 to $1,749.
Buck Dozier, executive director of the Tennessee State Fair, has recommended the board adopt smaller increases, however.
Under Dozier and his staff’s recommendations, fees to hold corporate events at the banquet hall, creative arts building and sports arena would be $1,125, $2,200 and $1,300, respectively.
The board is set to vote on increases at its next meeting. A date isn’t finalized.