A proposed raceway in South Kitsap received the go-ahead this week to take the next step toward construction.
The Kitsap Public Facilities District's board voted Monday to approve an agreement with the Port of Bremerton and agreed to pay $500,000 for an engineering and design study for the project.
Circuit of the Northwest LLC, the group behind the proposal, wants to build a 2.8-mile racetrack and event center on 230 acres west of Highway 3 near Bremerton National Airport.
The facilities district uses a state sales tax rebate to fund projects that provide economic and community benefit in Kitsap. Legislation passed in 2017 extended funding for the district, and the board is accepting new proposals this year.
The board previously approved a $60,000 feasibility study for the project in June.
The $500,000 will be paid from the public facilities district’s reserves and doesn’t lock the district into funding the raceway in the future, executive director Mike Walton said.
"There's language in (the agreement), at least in one place if not twice, that says there's no commitment to further funding, and further funding would be dependent on, I think we have a list of things that would need to be done to commit the PFD funding," Walton said.
Proponents of the raceway say it will spur economic development and provide a venue for other events like concerts, festivals, bike races and driver training. The group has also proposed building a STEM technology center and said it is working with local schools to teach skills in the automotive, maritime and aviation fields.
“A rumor is this is a racetrack, well, that's the backbone, but it's a multi-use facility," Brian Nilsen, with Circuit of the Northwest, told the board.
Last month, the idea drew flak from other county leaders, who argued that the board was moving forward with the raceway project before reviewing the rest of the proposals.
Board members debated the move, splitting the final vote 4 to 3. Board chairman Daron Jagodzinske argued that tax dollars shouldn’t be used to fund a project that amounted to a private racetrack for wealthy racing enthusiasts.
“Are there other things that we're going to build around it? Yes, partially maybe, to get public money to support it,” Jagodzinske said. “But at the essence of this project, it's a project to have people who have a lot of money drive cars, and I don't want to use public money for that purpose.”
Vice-chairman Patrick Hatchel agreed. Even if the raceway project becomes the eventual top choice for funding from the district, paying for the engineering work was unfair to the other projects, he said.
“The problem for me is I know the racetrack was out ahead of everybody else, but we still have a lot of other projects, our deadline hasn't even closed yet,” Hatchel said.
Others disagreed, pointing out that Circuit of the Northwest approached the board with its proposal long before other groups.
Unlike the six other groups that presented their projects to board Monday, the raceway project is “shovel-ready” and has already gone through the public facilities district’s vetting process, board member Bill Mahan said. He added that lack of action from the board could cause the project to miss its construction window and face delays.
“Unfortunately, (Circuit of the Northwest) got active. They took the initiative to bring this project to us when other people just kind of ignored what was going on and they knew about it,” Mahan said.
The public facilities district isn’t required to spend all of its funding on one project, or even at one time, board member Erin Leedham said.
“It's not a race to use up every dollar with projects that are here right now, it's to back the projects that will do the most for Kitsap County, and I think this is one of them,” Leedham said.
The public facilities district board is accepting applications for projects through the end of the year. It will review projects beginning in January, Walton said, and should have a list of finalists sometime in 2019.