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Dragway incentives deal over 40 years?

Concord and Cabarrus County are looking to pay part of an $80 million incentives deal for billionaire Lowe's Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith over 40 years, county commissioner Coy Privette told the Observer Wednesday.

The plan would involve rebating the equivalent of 85 percent of annual city and county taxes generated by Smith's new projects, Privette said.

That's a common method to attract new businesses or to get existing ones to expand. What's unusual is the length. Incentives in Cabarrus often run three to five years.

“I'm opposed to commitments for three years, much less 40. That's irresponsible in my opinion,” said Privette, a long-time incentives foe.

Commissioners Chairman Jay White blasted Privette for discussing private negotiations in public, saying he was damaging the relationship the city and the county have had with Smith's company, Speedway Motorsports Inc. White also stressed that the road projects that make up the bulk of the work covered by incentives will benefit all residents, not merely Smith.

“What commissioner Privette is doing is not giving SMI the respect to see the entire agreement instead of reading a part of the agreement in the paper,” White said. “I question whether (Privette's) true allegiance is with taxpayers or with himself.”

Also on Wednesday, Smith was joined by local officials and others at a ribbon cutting for his $60-million drag strip in Concord. After the ceremony, Smith said he expected to see the incentives deal on Monday.

Controversy surrounding the drag strip ultimately led to the incentives. Last fall, Smith threatened to move the speedway following a high-profile dispute with the city over building the drag strip.

In November, the city and county said they would provide Smith with the incentives, mainly covering road improvements around the speedway, in exchange for Smith agreeing not to leave, building the drag strip and putting about $200 million in renovations at the speedway.

Local leaders also said at the time they would look to the state to provide $20 million for the deal, but would make up the difference if the state did not provide the funds.

The state's planned extension of the George W. Liles Parkway could cover the commitment from the state, tinkerWhite said. That would leave $60 million for the city and county to cover under the 40-year incentive, Privette said. He added that the 40-year plan was discussed by commissioners during a closed session Monday night.

White declined to comment on specifics of the deal. County and city leaders have been meeting behind closed doors this summer to hammer out the plan. After it goes to Smith, the city and county will hold public hearings and then vote on the deal.

At Wednesday's ceremony for the zMax Dragway @ Concord, Smith predicted that the neighbors who initially opposed the facility will love it once they check it out.

Despite tense negotiations last fall, no hard feelings were on display at the event, where Concord Mayor Scott Padgett told the crowd at the ceremony, “This is a very big moment in our history, too.”

He and White also have agreed to participate in the drag strip's first street-legal race Saturday during a public open house at the facility.

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