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County prepared to pay for facility improvements to help Raceway

Grays Harbor County may not be done paying a price for its now-terminated contract with Great Northwest Promotions LLC to lease the Grays Harbor Raceway.

Capital improvements have been made to repair parts of the facility. Items have been purchased to replace those Great Northwest Promotions removed from the facility and the county is most likely headed to arbitration with its former promoter to recoup losses. The county could be putting in as much as $30,000 to get the Raceway ready for the new promoter before races start in May.

The county commissioners canceled the leasing contract with Great Northwest Promotions LLC on Oct. 15, 2013, citing numerous unpaid bills owed the county.

Great Northwest had 30 days from the Oct. 15 date to vacate all of its belongings from the raceway site. While much of Great Northwest’s property was removed from the facility in October, all of the company’s belongings were not off the premises until the beginning of March. When Great Northwest did leave the facility, they took thousands of dollars in county property.

“We have had to put some money back into our facility because we do own the land so we own the capital improvements,” County Commissioner Wes Cormier said. “There was a hot water heater that was taken. There was a table that was ours. . . . part of the scoreboard was taken. Some of that has been returned. There was a storage container that they said was theirs and we found a receipt that it was ours.”

A few days after terminating the lease with Great Northwest, grading equipment that was used to smooth the surface of the raceway had vanished. Cormier said the county can’t prove it actually owned the grader.

“We couldn’t prove it was our property,” Cormier said. “If we can’t prove it is ours, it’s not ours.”

The county could prove it owned other items such as the storage container, a stainless steel table with a sink and some of the controls of the scoreboard system, yet not all of the items were returned.

Cormier said in discussions with Great Northwest over the past months the company has made a claim to various items from the lights at the facility to the sound system. In his understanding, items that are affixed to the facility can not be considered personal property, Cormier said. The county kept the lights for the Raceway, but the speakers for the sound system were taken by Great Northwest.

The county commissioners chose Funtime Promotions Inc. of Burlington and owner Steve Beitler as the promoter on Jan. 2 and a contract to lease the facility was completed two weeks ago. Beitler has had a crew working to clean throughout the facility and renovate portions that needed a facelift.

“There has been a significant financial investment,” Beitler said. “The work is progressing very well.”

Funtime Promotions has remodeled the main concession area, cleaned and renovated many of the suites and the offices, power washed all of the grandstands and the guard rails and begun a full overhaul of the pit area, Beitler said. Even with a later start due to Great Northwest vacating months after they were required to be off the premises, Beitler is determined that the raceway will begin its season on May 10 with rain as the only possible obstacle.

In going through the contract process with Funtime Promotions, Cormier said all of the commissioners felt it was the responsibility of the county to bring the facility up to the standards when Fred Brownfield was operating the facility prior to 2007.

“After talking and going through the old contract, I felt it was our responsibility to bring it up to what we would want if we were going to try and sell the raceway to someone,” Cormier said. “What standard would we want to lease it out. It was in pretty rough shape so we had to do some capital improvements.”

All of the improvements the county has helped with so far, including the purchase of two freezers and new sound equipment, total around $20,000.

Grays Harbor Public Services Director Kevin Varness told the county commissioners recently that it would cost upward of $7,000 to get an outfit to install equipment for the scoreboard to work properly. Cormier said on Monday that he does not anticipate the total of the improvements to go above $30,000. The funds will be pulled from a capital improvements fund for the Grays Harbor Fairgrounds, because the raceway is part of the entire fairgrounds facility. The fairgrounds are funded using tourism tax dollars and proceeds received from fairgrounds events.

“The amount of money we get just from camping around the site is around $30,000 so we will make that back in a year and that doesn’t include all of the hotels that will be rented or the restaurants that will be filled,” Cormier said.

Among the other bills owed to the county include $6,109 to the Sheriff’s Office for providing security at the track that remains unpaid dating back to Sept. 26, 2012, and one dollar for each paid admission for the 2013 World of Outlaws event, the 2012 American Sprint Car Series (ASCS) events and the 2013 ASCS events. Those add up to thousands of more dollars owed to the county.

The county is planning to enter into arbitration with the outfit to be properly compensated, Varness said.

As of Tuesday, no documents stating an intent to enter arbitration have been filed by the county or Great Northwest, Grays Harbor County Deputy Prosecutor Jim Baker said.

If either party sends notice to the other that they wish to enter arbitration, both sides will have 30 days to decide upon an arbitrator. In the case where both sides can not decide on an arbitrator, the presiding judge of Grays Harbor Superior Court will decide on an arbitrator. Baker said there is no set time frame for the arbitration, but the process is usually quicker than court litigation. The arbitrator’s decision is binding for both parties.

Cormier said at this point the county commisioners have had to choose their battles with Great Northwest and make sure they do not stand in the way of a full racing season. As long as there are five months of action at the raceway, Cormier said he feels the county will be a winner.

“We decided to pay for the portion of the scoreboard so we can get that up and running,” Cormier said. “Given the stuff that we had to replace it is not much in the overall scheme of things. It is a lot of money, but it is not much for what we are going to get back for having a season. We don’t want to miss a year of racing. We will pay for that now and then we will go through arbitration later and try to recoup that money that we feel we rightfully deserved.”