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Smith sends bill for track upgrades

Lowe's Motor Speedway owner says city, county owe him for $2.8 million worth of improvements.

By Adam Bell
abell@charlotteobserver.com

Escalating a standoff over government incentives, Lowe's Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith is demanding that Concord and Cabarrus County reimburse him for $2.8 million worth of improvements around the Concord track.

The 81-year-old billionaire is quarreling with local officials over the $80 million incentives package they promised him last Thanksgiving.

The deal centered on extensive road improvements around the track; it had Smith handling the improvements, then being repaid by the city and county.

The governments want the bulk of the payments spread over up to 40 years. Smith insists the money is due within three to five years.

This is the second consecutive year that tensions between the two groups have loomed over this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Bank of America 500 race at the speedway.

In a letter hand-delivered to the city and county Sept. 25, Jim Guess, a project manager for Smith's Speedway Motorsports Inc., said the company had spent nearly $1.4 million on transportation infrastructure design and another nearly $1.4 million on sound mitigation at Smith's new drag strip.

Guess's letter said that SMI should have been compensated by Oct. 3 and that the company had more bills it would forward to the city and county.

But the governments have not paid the bills because no formal incentive deal is in place, City Manager Brian Hiatt and County Manager John Day said Tuesday. The final wording of the incentives package will determine whether it covers those bills, they said.

No new talks are scheduled between the two sides over the incentives impasse.

Speedway spokesman Scott Cooper declined to comment.

Last year at this time, Smith was threatening to move the speedway – a major source of income and pride for the region – if Concord did not stop opposing his plans for a drag strip near the speedway.

By Thanksgiving, a general agreement was reached under which Smith would build the $60 million drag strip and make $200 million in speedway upgrades, in exchange for incentives estimated at $80 million. Details of the incentive agreement were left to be worked out later.

Guess's Sept. 25 letter includes invoices for engineering and related work around Morehead Road and for noise abatement at the drag strip, which opened last month.

Guess also said in the letter that SMI expected to receive $60 million worth of incentives by the end of 2010 and the remaining $20 million by 2013.

When asked where those dates came from, Hiatt said, “That's a good question.”

Agreeing to Smith's demands for an early payback, government leaders have said, would severely damage their budgets. Smith has said he no longer trusts local officials and that his lawyers were looking into potential fraud by the governments.

Adam Bell: 704-786-2185

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