Motorsports park will not be built in Oak Ridge

Part of the site where a test track and research facility or motorsports park was proposed on the back side of Horizon Center in west Oak Ridge is pictured above on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Photo by John Huotari/Oak Ridge Today)

The proposed motorsports park will not be built in Oak Ridge, the developer announced Tuesday after learning that an environmental impact statement would be required, and that the study could cost several million dollars and take several years.

Rusty Bittle, developer and founding partner of the Oak Ridge Motorsports Park, said he would try to relocate the proposed project. The name will be changed as well, Bittle said.

“After more than a year of discussions between the City of Oak Ridge, Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board, and the U.S. Department of Energy, Bittle decided to relocate the project to another East Tennessee community that offers more attractive options for the project,” a press release said.

“An East Tennessee motorsports park is a legacy project for me,” Bittle said in the press release. “The State of Tennessee has a reputation for automotive excellence, we are leading the way on advanced transportation technologies like electric vehicles, lightweight composites, and artificial intelligence. A motorsports park will help the state and host community build an international reputation for next generation transportation technologies and become a tourism destination for automotive enthusiasts.”

The project was proposed about 18 months ago. Bittle said the discussions involved the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board and the U.S. Department of Energy. An environmental assessment of the development site at the Horizon Center was completed, and the City of Oak Ridge drafted a new zoning district to accommodate the special needs of the project, the press release said.

It said the U.S. Department of Energy sent a letter to the IDB last week that outlined next steps.

“The letter explained if the land uses at the Horizon Center changed from the agreed upon uses in 2003 between the City of Oak Ridge and DOE (manufacturing and processing plants, research and development, warehousing and wholesaling facilities, public or semipublic uses, offices and services industries), the IDB or ultimately ORMP would be responsible for the costs associated with the required environmental impact statement (EIS) and mitigation,” the press release said. “A motorsports park was not explicitly noted as a use; therefore, an EIS would be required for the project to proceed. The additional testing could cost an excess of $7 million and take an upwards of 3-4 years, with no guarantees that final approval would be received.”

“Ultimately, this new information has led me to identify another host community in East Tennessee,” Bittle said in a social media post.

In the press release, Bittle described the decision as “tough” and thousands of people had supported the project.

“I am excited about potential new locations, and I think our supporters and motorsports enthusiasts from around the country will be too,” Bittle said. “I look forward to sharing specific details very soon.”

The press release said the new locations under review are “shovel ready,” meaning the host communities have zoning in place to accommodate Bittle’s motorsports park concept and parcels with 300 acres or more contiguous property “unencumbered by governmental bureaucracy.”

The press release said a market study and analysis of the Oak Ridge Motorsports Park showed ORMP would generate $93 million in its first five years and up to $110 million under a best-case scenario. The analysis was conducted by an independent consulting firm retained by Tilke Engineers & Architects, recognized as one of the most experienced companies when it comes to design, engineering, and construction oversight in the motorsports world, the press release said. Bittle has retained Tilke to to draft the concept for the park and design and manage construction of the park as the project progresses.

“There are so many communities in East Tennessee that are looking for innovative ways to grow their economy and rebuild after the global pandemic,” Bittle said. “I look forward to being part of their future.”

The proposed motorsports park had supporters but also opponents. Among the concerns raised by opponents was the potential noise from a motorsports park on the west side of town and the effects on nature and animals, including in the Black Oak Ridge Conservation Easement next to Horizon Center.

Bittle said he will share more information about the new locations and rebranding the motorsports park as the project progresses. You can learn more on the project’s Facebook page.

More information will be added as it becomes available.

You can contact John Huotari, owner and publisher of Oak Ridge Today, at (865) 951-9692 or [email protected]

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