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Chevy Nick

Future of Heartland Park in question

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Chevy Nick

Topeka City Council votes down measure to move ahead with Heartland Park purchase. Foreclosure imminent.

 

Before we get into the bad news I would like to recognize those that came forward to support Heartland Park Topeka. Speaking in front of a large audience and on camera is no small task. In honor of the people who stepped into the arena tonight; Kraig Bailey, Suzie Mears, Bryan Cohn, Chuck Hanna, Elyse McKinnon, Gary Vonderschmidt, and Rob Parks. When the stakes were highest these people rose to the challenge. I'd go to hell for every one of them. I will sleep well tonight knowing that I gave it my best.

 

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After months of divisive deliberation, the Topeka City Council on Tuesday voted against a resolution that would have allowed the city to proceed with its purchase of the financially troubled Heartland Park Topeka racetrack.

 

The council’s governing body of nine members and Mayor Larry Wolgast voted 6-4 against the resolution, which required a six-vote majority for approval, during a three-hour city council meeting.

 

The measure would have allowed city manager Jim Colson “to proceed with the implementation of the Heartland Park Redevelopment Project Plan including, but not limited to, the sale of additional STAR Bonds estimated to be between $4.8 and $5.5 million.”

 

Wolgast voted in favor of the measure, along with council members Michelle De La Isla, Brendan Jensen and Karen Hiller.

 

“I believe that this proposal has the best chance of protecting the pocketbooks of Topeka taxpayers while giving Heartland Park Topeka an opportunity to prove it can return to contributing to our city’s economy,” the mayor said.

 

Council members Sandra Clear, Sylvia Ortiz, Jonathan Schumm, Elaine Schwartz, Jeff Coen and Richard Harmon opposed the measure.

 

Schwartz asked city leaders, including Colson, a litany of questions, saying she has been misled by them.

 

“I’m going to vote against this,” Schwartz said. “I polled my own district and it came back three-to-one against.”

 

Clear, of District 2, and Schumm, of District 4, said their constituents are also opposed to the purchase, and they would vote against it for that reason.

 

“I want a racetrack in Topeka,” Schumm said. “I simply do not want a racetrack owned by Topeka.”

 

District 8 Councilman Coen criticized ambiguities with the Heartland Park purchase before telling those in attendance he would vote against.

 

“Business deals need to be airtight but should also be easy to understand,” Coen said.

 

Wolgast acknowledged that the city could have handled the Heartland Park matter better but said past failures informing the public shouldn’t justify voting against the measure.

 

“The handling of this process could have been done better,” Wolgast said. “We could have engaged the community from the beginning better and shared complete information on a more timely basis.”

 

Nine people lined up to speak before the council made its vote, eight of whom were in favor of the motion. They included Topeka residents and nonresidents, including many who conduct business at the track.

 

“The doors are open. You have motor sports, you have that money coming to your community,” said Brian Cohn with the National Auto Sport Association. “Vote for and you get my 15,000 drivers to spend their money here.”

 

Before the governing body voted on the motion, they voted down a measure by Ortiz to defer the vote for six months. The amendment was defeated by a 9-1 vote, with Ortiz dissenting.

 

Topeka city officials have said they will need about $5 million in reissued STAR Bonds to purchase the track, but the proposal before council members Tuesday night granted Colson flexibility to seek up to $5.5 million in bonds for the purchase.

 

Colson had suggested the city government contract with Shelby LLC, a company recently formed by Missouri real estate developer Chris Payne, to lease and operate Heartland Park. Ortiz said last month she wouldn’t vote in favor of the deal if she didn’t have a signed operating agreement with Shelby in front of her before Tuesday’s vote. Colson said April 29 that wasn’t feasible.

 

Tuesday’s vote followed two public meetings on the matter late last month. At the first, held at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library on April 28, Shelby LLC attorney Wes Carrillo said the company plans to release Heartland Park’s financials for each of the first three years Shelby would operate it, so people will know how much money it has made or lost.

 

The Topeka City Council voted in 2006 to issue $10.46 million in STAR bonds to finance improvements at Heartland Park. Though plans called for those bonds to be paid off using sales tax revenue from the area near the track, revenue consistently has come up short.

 

Colson said last June that about $10.8 million in principal and interest remained to be paid on the STAR bonds, and the city was on track to be forced to pay $8.9 million in subsidies toward those bonds during the next 12 years.

 

On Aug. 8, 2014, the council voted 9-1 to buy the Heartland Park Topeka racing facility and expand its redevelopment district. Councilman Chad Manspeaker cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he wasn’t certain the moves were “the best deal for the citizens of Topeka.”

 

Council members then approved every measure put before them to advance the purchase between Aug. 12 and Tuesday night.

 

Public wariness of the city’s proposed purchase overshadowed the April 7 city council election, which saw the ouster of both incumbent candidates, District 2 Councilman TJ Brown and District 8 Councilman Nathan Schmidt. Brown and Schmidt had cast votes in favor of the purchase and each cited their tentative support of the deal as factors in their defeat.

 

Two other incumbents — District 4’s Denise Everhart and District 6’s Manspeaker — didn’t seek re-election. The result was a nine-member council with four new members being sworn in weeks before deciding one of the most heated issues facing the city.

 

The Heartland Park purchase has been delayed and nearly stymied by a petition effort launched after the August vote by Chris Imming. Imming’s petition drive gained more than the required number of signatures needed to put the city’s purchase of Heartland Park on a ballot for a citywide election, but the city filed a lawsuit challenging its legality. In November, Shawnee County District Court Judge Larry Hendricks sided with the city, ruling the petition invalid and prompting a number of appeals and challenges by Imming and his attorney, R.E. “Tuck” Duncan.

 

Some questions arose Tuesday night over the National Hot Rod Association’s annual Kansas Nationals at Heartland Park from May 22 to 24. NHRA media relations director Anthony Vestal told The Topeka Capital-Journal on April 29 that the NHRA was proceeding with plans to put on that event. Those plans don’t include Raymond Irwin, whose Jayhawk Racing LLC currently owns Heartland Park, according to Colson.

 

Sublet acknowledged that the city’s contract with the NHRA was terminated Monday.

 

“There is no contract between the city and NHRA,” Sublet said. “NHRA has been a willing participant with Heartland Park and the city for some time.”

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Chevy Nick

Water Cut Off At Heartland Park

 

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Financial problems at Heartland Park Topeka have been documented for months, but until last week just about everything was working. "The city has shut of water to Heartland Park and that was done later last week," said City Financial Services Director Doug Gerber.

 

This latest, ominous news comes as the future the track remains up in the air.

 

Jayhawk Racing LLC owed an outstanding water bill in the amount of $58,000 before the NHRA Nationals event occurred over Memorial Day weekend.

 

Gerber said, "That number is off the most recent bill and we have not been paid since August of 2013."

 

The city council recently reversed a decision to issue sales tax revenue bonds to buy heartland park and improve the area around it. During discussions, Jayhawk Racing had said CoreFirst Bank could foreclose on the facility at any time.

 

Still, the NHRA footed the bill for the summer nationals event to take place and expressed hope someone would step up to save the facility. Now, in order for future events to take place with the faucets turned on, the city says someone needs to pay up. "As with any property in the city, if you have an outstanding water bill and you need to get it turned back on, you have to work with the city and pay your outstanding debt," said Gerber.

 

Reversing Course

 

Early in May, the Topeka City Council voted six to four against moving forward with its plans to use five million dollars in STAR bonds to purchase Heartland Park and improve the district commercially.

 

That was a far different result than the 7-3 vote last December that initially gave the green light to the city to buy the bonds. In the six months between the two votes, a highly-publicized petition drive to put the issue to a public vote ended up being decided in the courts.

 

More importantly, Topeka voters sent two of the councilmen who had voted yes packing which, when combined with fellow supporter Denise Everhart also stepping down, freed up three council seats that were filled by opponents of the proposal.

 

The day after the council put its plans permanently in park, the company who was in talks to manage the track said it "back, weigh our options and move forward accordingly

 

An Uncertain Future

 

The NHRA Nationals came to town later that month - possibly for the last time. After the vote, drag racing association terminated its contract with the city and hosted the event itself.

 

So, for now, the future of the track remains open. City leaders and race fans throughout northeast Kansas cross their fingers hoping a new solution will be found and the lights will once again turn green at Heartland Park

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Chevy Nick

NHRA revs up support for Topeka divisional doubleheader

 

In a show of support for NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Sportsman racing in general and to the Topeka/Kansas City racing community specifically, NHRA Division 5 Director Rob Park and NHRA are pulling out all the stops for the upcoming Division 5 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series doubleheader at Heartland Park Topeka.

 

The NHRA Lucas Oil Doubleheader Weekend presented by Aeromotive will feature back-to-back divisional events, Aug. 13-14 (Thursday and Friday) and Aug. 15-16 (Saturday and Sunday), preceded by a test ’n’ tune day, Wednesday, Aug. 12. And with a large contingent of Sportsman racers expected to take advantage of the doubleheader weekend in pursuit of national and divisional championships, NHRA’s world-famous NHRA Safety Safari presented by AAA will be on hand to ensure that the racing surface is in top-notch condition. Safety-Kleen also will be on hand for the event, providing cleanup materials and its familiar oil-containment stations.

 

“This doubleheader weekend is something that our racers have been asking for, especially because it allows them to save on travel costs,” said Park. “We’re also aware of the rumors about the event and about the facility, and we wanted to send a message to everyone in that area, and to Sportsman racers in general, about NHRA’s commitment to them. The Safety Safari is coming directly to the event from Seattle [after the NHRA Northwest Nationals], which is no small feat considering it’s a 27-hour trip, but we put two-driver teams in place to get them to the facility in time to get the track ready for Wednesday’s test ’n’ tune. They’ll bring their full complement of equipment — our tractors, draggers, Power Bosses sweeper trucks, and spray rigs — and we’ll have five of the full-time Safari members overseeing everything.

 

“We know that racers from all divisions will be represented at this event because it’s a good fit for racers on their way to Brainerd [the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals the following weekend] or getting ready for Indy [the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals]. It’s going to be a great race.”

 

Earlier this year, NHRA made a tremendous team effort in Topeka to stage the annual NHRA Kansas Nationals after the Topeka City Council voted against a resolution that would have allowed the city to proceed with the purchase of the facility. NHRA never wavered in its support of the event and put operational team members on the ground at the facility to make preparations for the race weekend and handled the advertising and promotional campaigns. The event was completed in spectacular fashion with record-breaking runs and a great crowd, and NHRA is showing the same kind of unwavering dedication to the divisional events.

 

Heartland Park Topeka also will host the Division 5 Summit Racing Series Finals, Sept. 18-20, where more than 600 of the region’s best e.t. bracket racers will converge for the chance to win divisional championships and the opportunity to compete for national championships later this year in Pomona.

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Chevy Nick

Someone paid Heartland Park Topeka's water bill, but parties keeping mum

 

Someone paid off Heartland Park Topeka’s more than $60,000 debt to the city of Topeka, but it isn’t clear who picked up the tab — or whether the track is any closer to reopening.

 

The city of Topeka confirmed it had received a $61,415.29 payment for the racetrack’s water bill, which included $224 in penalties. No one had requested that the water be turned back on at this point, according to the city. If service were turned back on, the track would begin paying the monthly meter charge.

 

The debt was paid with a cashier’s check from CoreFirst Bank & Trust, which owns the track’s mortgage. City officials weren’t certain whether CoreFirst had paid the debt from its own funds, or if another entity with an account there, such as operator Jayhawk Racing, had taken out the cashier’s check.

 

Kurt Kuta, president and CEO of CoreFirst, declined to comment on whether the bank had a role in resolving the water debt. He said the process of finding a new operator for the track was “moving along,” but that it was too early to give more details.

 

Raymond Irwin, who operates Jayhawk Racing, declined to comment on who had paid the water bill, or whether the track was any closer to reopening.

 

The racetrack had been closed since the National Hot Rod Association put on the Mello Yello Racing Series Kansas Nationals over Memorial Day weekend, and the city of Topeka shut off water service after the races. The NHRA announced earlier this month that it plans to hold drag racing events at Heartland Park in August and September, and will pay any expenses for those events.

 

“If such a request is made, the City would work with the appropriate parties to have water service restored,” the release said. “The City has had discussions with the NHRA regarding restoring water services for these events; however, no determination has yet been made.”

 

The track’s future has been unclear for months. A plan to issue $5.5 million in Sales Tax Revenue bonds to purchase Irwin’s interest in the track and pay off both the more than $10 million in STAR bonds issued in 2006 and the track’s debt, including a mortgage with CoreFirst Bank & Trust, ran into more public opposition than city officials apparently expected. Topekan Chris Imming led a petition drive to invalidate the purchase agreement, which gathered enough signatures for a public vote but was declared invalid in court.

 

The city council declined to issue the STAR bonds in May. The NHRA event over Memorial Day went on as scheduled, though the facilities were damaged when a worker drove a dump truck onto a pedestrian bridge, causing it to collapse.

 

A Holton dirt track driver announced about three weeks ago that he would attempt to raise $5 million to purchase the track and work with local racing fans to run it. As of 8:30 a.m. Friday, his GoFundMe page, http://www.gofundme.com/heartlandpark, had raised $125 from 10 contributors.

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