Speedway lease issue still unresolved
PUNTA GORDA — There are no longer immediate plans to close the Punta Gorda Speedway or to put the land out for bid before owner Kevin Williams’ lease expires in March. Nor does a deal between Williams and the Charlotte County Airport Authority look imminent.
Twelve people spoke up for the Speedway at Thursday’s authority meeting. They suggested ways to keep the track open, from a partial lease to an appeal to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The authority commissioners offered their own ideas in a 20-minute discussion.
But the issue remained unresolved and the numbers ambiguous, and the negotiation deadline continues to approach with little to show.
Both parties threatened mid-January action after last month’s meeting. Williams had told the authority he would start removing his property Jan. 15, while the authority told him it would have bid forms available at that time. Williams went back on his statement two weeks ago, and the authority did the same Thursday.
The airport recently sent a document to Williams that outlined the process used to determine the fair market value of the land being rented.
The offer in the Jan. 4 letter came to $7,351 per month for a 23-acre property — different from the number an authority member cited in December, $6,400, and far from the $10,500 others have said the land is worth. The current lease lists the property at 24.47 acres, and commissioners referenced that figure Thursday.
Williams offered the airport $5,000 per month, up from the $3,864 he is paying now, and has disputed the amount of land actually being rented.
“I don’t mind paying fair,” Williams said Jan. 5. “But there’s not 24.47 acres that I rent. There’s 19-point-something acres of usable property.”
A new appraisal of the speedway’s land will take place, executive director Gary Quill said. Sarasota-based Bass and Associates will handle the appraisal, but Quill couldn’t say exactly when the new land value would be released.
The airport authority is also planning to draw an outline of the speedway’s land but has not committed to a pinned survey.
Should Williams turn down the determined market value, the land would have to be put out to a bid because of a Federal Aviation Administration regulation. Though commissioners discussed Thursday ways the speedway could increase revenue to afford the $7,500 figure, most said their hands were tied.
“We cannot force Mr. Williams to continue operating a racetrack,” commissioner Pam Seay said.
James Parrish, the authority’s assistant director, said he is working on another solution that would give Williams two one-year options to extend the three-year lease.
Meanwhile, proponents of the speedway have continued to fight for the track. Staff member Jessica Bryant started a petition on an activism website Change.org that drew 416 signatures in six days.
Signers could comment under the petition, and Bryant submitted a copy of the comments to the authority at Thursday’s meeting. A paper petition has circulated at the track, and Bryant said it has nearly 800 signatures.