Terminal's future hinges on vote Racing fans oppose zoning dirt track out of existence

By BILL BREWER, knoxnews.com
December 5, 2006

Crete Carrier Corp., having cleared two rezoning hurdles in its quest to consolidate East Tennessee operations, is one step away from investing about $5.3 million in a Roane County trucking terminal.

Roane County Commission is scheduled to vote on rezoning the Atomic Speedway site near Buttermilk Road at the Loudon County line Dec. 11.

Mike Farmer, Roane County mayor, isn't sure how the commission will vote because the rezoning has become so emotionally charged.

Dirt track racing fans are opposing the move, saying county leaders should work with Atomic supporters to preserve the track.

"Atomic Speedway is a tradition; it's been out there a long time. It's a supercharged issue, and fans feel they have ownership," Farmer said.

Farmer believes some commissioners will vote to rezone the Atomic site, but he isn't discounting the opposition.

"From a purely economic development standpoint, it is a benefit. But you're losing a part of Roane County history," he said. "Dirt track racing has always been part of the South, and it would be the end of an era."

The county's Industrial Development Board unanimously recommended Nov. 7 that the property be reclassified from commercial to light industrial to accommodate Crete's plan to build a truck terminal on the Atomic site. Roane County's Planning Commission approved the rezoning Nov. 29.

Leslie Henderson, president and CEO of the Roane Alliance, Roane County's economic development agency, shares Farmer's views about the site.

"At the Alliance, we have mixed emotions about it. We've been touting the speedway as a tourism draw," Henderson said. "It's a private owner and a private sale of the property, and the track just isn't going."

Chip Miller, a Realtor with R.M. Moore Commercial Real Estate Co., which is brokering owner Ed Adams' sale of the racetrack to Crete, said Atomic has seen its last race, regardless of the County Commission vote.

Miller said Adams and Crete are optimistic county commissioners will affirm the rezoning and give Crete the go-ahead to build its terminal, which would create about 50 jobs.

Crete wants to start construction immediately and be in its new terminal by next fall, Miller said.

"The economic investment would generate an additional $42,868 in property tax over the current $7,588 in annual property tax," Miller said. "The site is basically in the path of progress. It is economically underutilized. The value of the property has increased to a point where its highest and best use is no longer a racetrack."