It’s not uncommon to begin a home improvement with one budget and end it with a very different price tag. Grays Harbor County isn’t exactly remodeling a house, but after county officials hoped to spend around $30,000 for equipment and renovations to parts of the Grays Harbor Raceway the actual cost of the work done has come out to more than twice the budget at $67,683.
The county commissioners canceled the leasing contract with Great Northwest Promotions LLC for Grays Harbor Raceway on Oct. 15, 2013, citing numerous unpaid bills owed the county. Great Northwest did not vacate all of the company’s belongings off of the property until the beginning of March and when county workers and the new promoter, Funtime Promotions, began to inspect the facility thousands of dollars of equipment needed to operate the facility was missing.
The county spent around $20,000 on a new sound system and freezers for the facility, but workers began to find more projects that needed to be done — from plumbing issues because pipes were not properly winterized by the previous tenants to concession stand repairs that had to be made in order to bring the facility up to code.
“All of the items had to be addressed,” Grays Harbor Public Services Director Kevin Varness said. “We wanted to put it back to the facility that developed a few years ago.”
Varness said that one of the original promoters at the track, Fred Brownfield, had put a lot of his own time and money into upgrades before his death in a track accident in 2006.
“When we went and looked at the condition of the concession stands clearly there were some things that we had to do in order to get our operating permits from our health department,” Varness said.
Grays Harbor County Commissioner Wes Cormier said in March that he did not expect the improvements to the facility to exceed $30,000, but the improvements to the concession stand alone totaled $20,745. The largest cost in the concession stand improvements was $13,051 spent on equipment such as freezers, fryers, a grill and work tables. The hoods over the fryers had not been maintained properly and in addition to cleaning, fire suppression systems had to be serviced as well.
A total of $17,984 was spent on a sound system for the facility and $9,582 was put into installing the scoreboard system that had parts taken by Great Northwest Promotions. All of the improvements were funded through a dedicated tax placed on those who stay in local hotels in the county. The fund is usually used for tourism purposes or to do upgrades at the fairgrounds.
While the county looked to find used items that would suffice the need of the facility, such as buying 2-year old freezers and older computer monitors for the scoring system, some items such as a computer to run the scoreboard and the fryers had to be bought new to keep the facility at the same level it was for the former promoter.
“With being a landlord, when you have tenants move out you go in and repaint, you find out what is going on,” Cormier said. “That is what our obligation is as the county. We own the land, we own the capital improvements, so it is important that we upkeep those and don’t let those go to waste.”
The county also decided to update the lower portion of the grandstands at the raceway while it was doing several renovations. The lower section stands and section D of the upper stands are wooden, instead of the aluminum like the majority of the upper sections, and were originally constructed to be placed on the horse racetrack during car racing and removed for horse racing. Varness said he thought the lower sections could be repaired with a few new boards, but when the project began it was evident all of the benches would need to be replaced. All of the lumber, bolts and steel plating for the project cost a total of $19,372, purchased at a discount from Sierra Pacific’s lumber mill in Aberdeen, Varness said.
“The quality of the wood from Sierra Pacific was phenomenal,” Varness told the commissioners Monday morning.
Varness added that not all of the wood for the project was needed so some of it was returned for credit.
Crews began construction on the new seating in May and finished last week. Varness notes that the new seating should allow even more people into the racetrack since the first few rows had been roped off as unsafe.
Funtime promotions owner Steve Beitler estimates that his company has put around $40,000 into the facility already this year. In addition to improvements to the facility, Funtime has had to borrow or rent around $60,000 worth of equipment to prepare the facility for the season.
Cormier said the grandstand project will likely be the last improvements the county makes for a while and he hopes to be able to work with the promoter to simply maintain the facility.
Great Northwest Promotions still owes the county thousands of dollars for the Sheriff’s Office for providing security at the track back to Sept. 26, 2012, one dollar for each paid admission for the 2013 World of Outlaws event and the 2012 and 2013 American Sprint Car Series events and any equipment the county can prove ownership to that may be in Great Northwest’s possession.
Cormier said he would like to go through the arbitration process to get some of the funds back from Great Northwest, but the action will first take approval from the county commissioners to do so.
Beitler said in the future he plans to purchase the between $50,000 to $60,000 of equipment such as a tractor, road grader and water truck to maintain the facility and improve the entrance area to the raceway by adding a few more ticket booths.
The raceway may still undergo a few changes in the years to come but Cormier, Varness and Beitler all agree that race fans should be proud of the facility.
“It is an investment in our facility,” Varness said. “We like to be proud of the work we do and if we just go out there with bailing wire and Band-Aids it is not very rewarding. It is rewarding to go out there and know the racing fans are going to appreciate the commitment we’ve made.”