A green flag for Aurora’s racetrack future?


AURORA | An Aurora racetrack has been unthinkable for years thanks to a rule that prohibits the city from offering financial incentives to a racetrack developer. That could finally change.

The ordinance, which dates back to 1999, does the city no favors, says Councilwoman Sally Mounier. That’s why she is proposing a referendum for the 2016 election that would ask Aurora voters to repeal the rule.

Mounier said she’s not motivated to put the issue on the ballot because she’s been approached by a developer about a potential raceway in the city.

“I’m doing this because I think it’s the right thing to do, and the timing seems to be right,” she says. “I think the (city) charter is not a place to discriminate against a particular business.”

She introduced the idea at city council’s Management and Finance committee meeting Jan. 28 where it was unanimously approved by city council committee members.

“This charter change was imposed on us by a Colorado Springs interest group because they didn’t want competition from something in metro area,” said Councilman Bob LeGare, vice chair of the committee. The southern Colorado racetrack has since become defunct.

In 1999, a citizen group named Concerned Residents Against Speedway Havoc was successful in convincing voters to pass a November ballot initiative preventing the city from providing “indirect or direct subsidies” to any type of motor racetrack.

That initiative blocked a large national race promoter from building a track in Aurora, but it was later marred in controversy. Several city officials at the time accused owners of the Colorado Springs Pikes Peak International Raceway of funding the initiative campaign out of fears their speedway would lose business to the Aurora track.

Following the initiative, the city successfully argued in county court to re-word the charter amendment so Aurora could work with racetrack developers and owners as it would with any other business. But the clause that prohibited the city from offering any type of incentives to potential racetracks, such as tax breaks or the waiving of development fees, was left intact.

“Those things are just huge, expensive to build,” said Mayor Steve Hogan of the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build speedways on the scale of the Indianapolis 500.

“At some point in time if there were a serious proposal to get something like that into the area, it would be nice for Aurora to be able to cooperate with other interests to make it happen rather than saying we’ve got the land, but we can’t help you. I think most council members then and now understand that if there ever were to be a NASCAR facility in the metro area, the best place would be on the east side of the metro area, and that’s Aurora,” he said.

Gary Wheat, president of Visit Aurora, said the organization has not studied the economic impact such a racetrack would have on Aurora, but that motor sports centers nationwide are generally moneymakers.

“A NASCAR race weekend will generate, on average, more than $100 million in economic impact for a destination,” he said. “Race fans are a loyal and travel-motivated group with one study estimating that 71 percent of those who attend are from out of town, spending an average of $170 per person over the course of the weekend.  NASCAR events continue to maintain strong attendance numbers while attracting millions of repeat visitors.”

The International Speedway Corp., which owns and operates numerous NASCAR tracks across the country, announced in 2007 its intent to build a racetrack in the Denver area. Aurora became one of the likely candidates, with a parcel near the High Point development in far north Aurora near Denver International Airport,  and another east of that site near Watkins. That project never came to fruition because of the economic downturn.

Sara Castellanos contributed to this story