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Track Impact

Kentucky Speedway delivering
on economic promises, merchants say

Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

(July 2001) Gallatin Co., Ky – One year after the first engines started and months after the first blackjack buffs arrived, the counties surrounding the Kentucky Speedway and the Belterra Casino Resort are reaping the benefits of their presence. Once quiet communities are now being developed with golf courses, convenient stores, restaurants and more. Many business owners and city officials report traffic has increased. They say the best is yet to come.

I-71 Overpass

“This area is ripe for development. When you have that, something is bound to happen,” said Ed Foley, who owns Walnut Ridge Golf Course in Warsaw, Ky., and currently serves as president of the Gallatin County Chamber of Commerce.
Gallatin’s chamber is currently in the process of forming a tourism commission in a effort to promote growth of the tourist industry in the towns of Warsaw and Sparta. They pin their hopes on the new Kentucky Speedway, which this year has expanded from three to four big racing weekends.
“Business has been better than anything,” said County Judge-Executive George Zubaty. “Business people say it’s like having five or six Fourth of Julys a year for them.”
Since the track’s opening last year, Gallatin County has quickly become one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. Compared to $2.9 million in tourism spending the year before, 2000 brought on a record-breaking increase to $23.4 million. Tourist destinations such as hotels and restaurants report that it is not just during race weekends that such impact is felt.
“My initial thought was that we would only be busy 10 days a year,” said Bonnie Wheeler, who manages three Carrollton motels. “But it just isn’t race dates. We’re busy when racing schools come and vendors come to test equipment on the track. It has turned out to be a great surprise, much more than I anticipated.”
Wheeler added the hotel has been taking room reservations six months in advance of race weekends.
Bill Frederick, owner of the Carrollton Inn and Carrollton Landing, has experienced positive impacts in his business, not only with the Kentucky Speedway but also Belterra Casino. He has seen reverse impacts as well.
“We had an impact from Belterra before they even opened the doors,” he said referring to the construction crews who stayed at his hotel. Also, whenever Belterra’s 308 hotel rooms are full, Belterra officials send customers his way.
Frederick also serves on Carroll County’s tourism board and has noticed the overall impact to the community. “One of the reasons we have been able to do so much is we’ve seen extra revenues generated because of sales tax and bed tax.”
He mentioned a new Best Western going up in Carrollton and the new convention center that has generated traffic at Gen. Butler State Resort Park.
The progress has gone beyond the realms of tourism, though. The overall development in both Carroll and Gallatin counties is in the midst of a Renaissance.
Carroll County Judge-Executive Gene McMurry said that discussion about a regional airport has been taking place since 1969, and now those words have been put into action. The counties of Carroll, Gallatin and nearby Owen have applied to the Federal Aviation Administration for a $350,000 federal grant to conduct a feasibility study. Plans are to place the airport on the 297 acres next to the Kentucky Speedway.
“The airport initiative was driven by the Kentucky Speedway, but we’ve been talking about this for a long time,” said McMurry. He added that for quite some time the Carroll County branch of the Dow Corning Industry wanted an airport for their corporate planes. Speedway officials also need a small airport to fly in drivers on race weekends. McMurry anticipated that if all is successful with the feasibility study, the airport could be completed in the near future.
“It’s on a fairly fast track,” he said. “We’re probably looking at one to two years.”
Both McMurry and Zubaty spoke of an upcoming meeting with an Aeronautical Transportation Department representative in early July regarding the feasibility study.
“This would be a regional type airport with small planes,” said Zubaty. “I don’t see it becoming a commuter airport, at least not in the original start. It would be in the 5,000-foot range. Our main thing, though, is this is going to have to be self-sufficient because to justify the people paying for it (through taxes), they would really have to use it.”
Zubaty added that an airport, combined with the ongoing construction of a new four-lane highway connecting I-71 to Markland Dam bridge to Indiana, will likely attract new industries to the area.
“I look for the real growth to happen on the I-71 interchange,” he said. “It is a natural progression. We’ve got everything, but we’re new at this. When these things are out, we need to promote them. The track is in its crawling stages, but there is a possibility for a Winston Cup. If that happened, it would be more than anything we could think about.”

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