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Officials reveal racetrack proposal

A multipurpose entertainment park that would include a half-mile drag strip, bleachers, a go-kart track and paintball field was presented last week to a spellbound group of racing enthusiasts who have been lobbying for years to get a track built in the Pine Bluff area.

The presentation was made by an ad hoc drag strip committee that was put together to determine whether a racing venue would be economically feasible and what it should include.

City Council member Joni Alexander, chair of the council’s Traffic and Aviation Committee, gave a slideshow presentation on a proposed 206-acre entertainment park that would located near I-530 and Grider Field. She called the proposed park a state-of-the-art “cosmopolitan canopy” facility.

“A cosmopolitan canopy is a place that attracts people from all demographics — various ages, various races, men and women, different professions, different social and economic statuses,” said Alexander, the person who put together and has guided the drag strip committee. “You want to build something that’s going to attract everybody.”

The elements of the Pine Bluff Entertainment Park, which would be built in three phases, include the following:

• Indoor/Outdoor Car Showroom

• Drag Strip Overwatch Pedestrian Bridge

• Spectator Bleachers

• ½ mile Drag Strip

• Security Booths

• Standard and RV Parking

• Helicopter Pad for Public Safety

• Children’s Play Area

• Promenade

• Go-Kart Track

• Motocross

• Paintball Field

• Esports/Clubhouse

• Amphitheater

Alexander said the group researched other racing venues around the country before deciding what would work in Pine Bluff.

“We looked at every top track in the United States of America and we combined every spec that they had. And then we added a lit bit more to it so whatever your favorite track is, they are going to have to do some upgrades to be able to compete with this track,” said Alexander, who added that she expected the track to attract 300,000 visitors annually.

To reduce the cost, Alexander said, solar panels would be used, but the entertainment park would be a revenue-generating attraction from parking, food trucks, vendor pop-up shops and the amphitheater as well as the drag strip, go-karts, motocross, paintball and esports.

“You want to know why we don’t see kids playing outside anymore? They are in the house playing games,” said Alexander. “Esports is a big business that can draw people from across the United States.”

Esports would be located in the clubhouse along with a museum, VIP room and concessions. A heritage trail would be spread along a multiuse promenade that would also feature the children’s play area.

The land for the location has not been financially secured, but Alexander said a verbal agreement has been established with the owners. The next step in the process will be presenting the cost factors to the city council and the Jefferson County Quorum Court in the next two weeks, with many of those city and county elected officials in attendance at last week’s meeting.

Alexander would not divulge what the price tax on the entertainment part is, saying that she will reveal that to city and county officials.

“I often call Pine Bluff the community on the hill because we have a lot of eyes watching us all the time,” said Alexander. “I often hear how we were once the heart of southeast Arkansas in past tense but I’m here to tell you that once the heart always the heart. Even in the face of difficulties, setbacks and complications, the role and responsibility of the heart never changes. Everything we do here impacts Southeast Arkansas. Whatever we build here will benefit this whole region.”

Close to 100 spectators filled the room in Pine Bluff Convention Center Friday evening to hear the details of the proposal. Before the plan was rolled out, Traffic and Aviation Committee member and former chairman gave a quick history about the communities’ efforts to bring a track to Pine Bluff.

“Several years ago Ron Lusby put together a platform to get a track,” said Alderman Ivan Whitfield, who added that Lusby had said it would cost up to $75,000 just to get the soil surveyed. “It did not come to fruition like we wish it would have.”

Whitfield said while running for Third Ward alderman, he visited the business of Lloyd Cato Jr., who said he would support Whitfield if he pledged to bring a racetrack to the table — something that proponents have been trying to get built in Pine Bluff for decades.

Whitfield did as he promised while chairman of the Traffic and Aviation Committee, but said he still ran into problems with the state Department of Environmental Quality.

“Somehow or another God had a plan that some kind of way Mrs. [Joni] Alexander, she knew the judge [Gerald Robinson] of the county, and the judge knew state Rep. (Mike) Holcomb,” said Whitfield. “Holcomb submitted a bill that changed the game.”

Rep. Mike Holcomb, R-Pine Bluff, the bill’s sponsor, explained during a Pine Bluff drag strip committee meeting back in March how the bill would give counties local control.

Holcomb said Arkansas House Bill 1716 supported the racetrack. The bill would enhance economic opportunities in rural areas of Arkansas to expand options for constructing and operating motor vehicle racing facilities in rural areas.

According to the bill, a person proposing to construct a motor vehicle racing facility may apply to the county judge for issuance of a motor vehicle racing facility permit by filing a permit application with the county clerk.

A written proposal for such a facility will also be included with a description of the types of motor vehicles proposed for racing at the facility; the maximum projected noise level of the motor vehicles; a description of the kinds of races and the types of buildings, stands, or other physical plants proposed; estimates of traffic counts and numbers of spectators; and any other relevant information as determined by the county judge.

“It was no longer you had to spend $50,000 to $75,000 just to test the soil,” said Whitfield. “They really gave the power of a race track to the county judge. Joni Alexander knew the judge so we got an upper hand on this thing.”

Passing the baton to Alexander, the new chair of the Traffic and Aviation Committee, Whitfield said her leadership is why they have progressed to the point where they are now.

Lloyd Cato Jr. (left) and several racers talk excitedly after the meeting about the the proposed Pine Bluff Entertainment Park. (Pine Bluff Commercial/Eplunus Colvin)