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Russell Cook is the developer behind this $250 million racetrack facility that may be built near Hollister. Taney County officials approved plans for the 800-acre site July 18.
Russell Cook is the developer behind this $250 million racetrack facility that may be built near Hollister. Taney County officials approved plans for the 800-acre site July 18.

Branson racetrack developers play their cards

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Developers of the Branson Sports Entertainment Complex received approval to build a $250 million NASCAR-style racing center near Hollister, provided they can meet local, state and even international guidelines during construction and keep the noise down once they’re done. Still, building the complex in Missouri is not a sure deal, according to company officials.

BSEC spokesman Nathan Adams said the complex could be developed in northern Arkansas.

“We’re going to continue to talk to Arkansas officials and do that due diligence process as well. That’s definitely not being ruled out. This is a lengthy process in Missouri that we have to go through,” Adams said, a day after the Taney County Planning and Zoning Commission approved BSEC’s plans by a 4-2 vote. “There are some other hurdles that have to be cleared.”

The vote
Taney County’s support came with a clause for penalties due to excessive noise during races. The property owners would be fined $5,000 for each noise violation. Four listening stations would be erected by BSEC a half-mile away from the facility. Violations would occur if noise from the track exceeded 68 decibels.  

Commission Chairman Shawn Pingleton suggested penalties for $5,000 per decibel above 68 decibels on the first violation, $10,000 per decibel point on the second and $25,000 for the third violation and beyond. However, commission member Ray Edwards’ motion to only penalize to the tune of a single $5,000 fine for breaching the decibel limit was approved.

A crowd of about 100 attended the July 18 meeting at Forsyth High School, and cheers erupted both for comments from one commission member’s opposition to the plan and for the final vote of approval.

Member Susan Martin, who voted against the proposal, said the commission had yet to receive the economic impact study it had requested, and she expressed skepticism about the 2,000 jobs developers say the project and complex would generate.

“You’re not going to have a racetrack in this part of the country that’s going to run 12 months out of the year,” commissioner Edwards countered. “It’s something we deal with every day with the tourist industry in this area, and I think we should appreciate the jobs this would bring in.”

Other requirements placed on BSEC include providing adequate infrastructure to access the 800-acre property in accordance with county and Missouri Department of Transportation guidelines, and the use of international building codes on the construction of the stadium’s seating.

Doubt and skepticism
Johnny Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops, has shown opposition to the construction of the racetrack near Hollister. In an open letter written to area residents in early July, Morris cited racecar noise emissions and BSEC developer Russell Cook’s reference to an affiliation between the racetrack and Morris, Bass Pro Shops and Big Cedar Lodge. Morris said no such affiliation exists, though he acknowledged Cook had performed work for Morris at Big Cedar Lodge more than 13 years ago.

“I believe that this proposed racetrack project is not only a very risky venture in its own right but that it is also putting the future of our community at risk,” Morris wrote. “This project threatens hundreds of homeowners, our property values, thousands of jobs, our quality of life and the natural environment of our Ozarks hills and waterways.”

The track itself, which is planned on 800 acres between U.S. Highway 65 and the Branson Airport, would operate within miles of Big Cedar Lodge.

Morris declined a request to be interviewed for this story through Bass Pro Shops spokesman Larry Whiteley.

In the letter, Morris used his racing ties to express skepticism about the project. Bass Pro Shops sponsors Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup series as well as two Nationwide series cars for Dale Earnhardt Inc.

“Subsequent to the initial announcement, I have personally reached out to friends and associates at the highest levels in NASCAR and based on what I have learned, I will be extremely surprised if NASCAR events are going to be sanctioned at this proposed track in the foreseeable future. The same holds true for the (Indy Racing League),” Morris said in the letter.

Next steps
Adams pointed to BSEC’s ability to secure a qualified staff of racing experts as reasons area residents, officials and racing fans should take the project seriously. The team includes Business Development Director Curtis Gray, who was the president of the Homestead Speedway in Miami for nine years, as well as Chris Eales of HNTB Corp. and Bob Carlson of DLR Group, who have worked as the track engineer and grandstand architects for the International Speed Corp., respectively.

“I would challenge anybody to put together a finer group of people,” Adams said.

Adams said the project is funded by private investors, and he acknowledged that Russell Cook, who was not available for comment, is the developer working to bring the three-quarter-mile asphalt track to the Ozarks. Cook founded Russell Cook Construction Inc. in 1967 in Hollister, and has performed excavation and construction at Big Cedar Lodge and Branson Creek Golf Course, among other developments.

Adams said BSEC’s sound engineer is reviewing the noise requirements and may go before the county board of adjustment if it is believed that the restrictions are unrealistic.

“In the (request for proposal) process that we’ll go through, we believe that it will ensure that there are local contractors and jobs being filled by local citizens on the site. That’s important to Mr. Cook. He’s lived in this area all of his life, and he wants to do the right thing here,” Adams said.

Crews already have cleared the land, and Adams said should a building permit get secured in Taney County, the track could open within 18 months.

He said the company does not have any affiliation with NASCAR, but said it was currently in talks with a number of racing organizations. He declined to say how the talks were going.

“Just like the Cardinals aren’t negotiating in public with Albert Pujols, we’re not going to discuss how negotiations are going with racing bodies,” Adams said.[[In-content Ad]]

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