PUNTA GORDA — The Punta Gorda Speedway, a nearly 25-acre racetrack that has been operating on Punta Gorda Airport property for some 20 years, now may be careening toward a fiscal cliff, based on a decision Thursday by the Charlotte County Airport Authority.
The authority voted unanimously during its regular meeting to reject what was phrased as a final lease offer from speedway owners Kevin and Terry Williams. The owners wanted to pay $5,000 per month, including a 7 percent sales tax. That’s up from $4,101 the track pays the authority on its current lease, which expires March 31, 2013.
The authority instead stuck with a suggestion from its Assistant Executive Director James Parish, who had advocated in negotiations with the speedway owners that the authority put the track’s lease out for bids. The bidding would come with a minimum bid requirement equal to a special fair market value that Parish had negotiated with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The airport is required by an FAA mandate to lease its property for fair market value as a condition for receiving federal grants.
The special value, which amounts to $32,000 per acre, represents a discount off what the Cheney Brothers food-distribution company paid for its land next to the racetrack, which amounted to $48,000 per acre, including government incentives.
However the FAA was willing to accept the lower value for the racetrack only if the authority went out for bids to see if anyone was willing to pay more, Parish said.
The authority typically sets its rent at 8 percent of the land’s value per year, according to Executive Director Gary Quill. Under that formula, the rent for racetrack’s 24.7 acres would amount to $5,269 per month.
Authority officials also were working on an option that would reduce the acreage leased in order to bring the rent to $5,000 per month for some 23 acres, plus a 7 percent sales tax, Quill said.
The Williamses, in a joint letter Monday to Quill, rejected the authority’s demand to go out for bid. There are several competing racetracks located “up the road” that likely would “write a check to the airport for one year just to put us out of business,” the Williamses wrote.
They also warned that if the authority rejects the speedway’s offer, the speedway would “have no choice but to have all our items removed from the property … by March 31, 2013.” Kevin Williams has indicated those items range from restaurant equipment to light fixtures, Parish said.
Attempts to contact Kevin for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
Parish said it was not his intent to shut down the track. He recently had lined up loads of dirt in a deal with Charlotte County to improve the track’s parking lot, which is prone to flooding, he pointed out.
Parish also said he recently visited the property to explore parking-lot drainage options, and Williams chased him off in a verbal altercation.
Pam Seay, an authority member who has sat in on the lease talks, said she found the speedway’s stance “disturbing and discouraging.” She said the authority tried to meet the speedway’s needs.
“And yet we’re being vilified in public for something we didn’t do,” she said.
The speedway’s problem is that it operates races maybe 30 weekends per year, but pays rent as if it was “a 52-week piece of property,” said Howard Shaw, who formerly worked at the speedway.
He said Kevin Williams has invested in aluminum bleachers and other improvements.
“I think you people are missing some common sense here,” Shaw said. “Kevin’s put a lot of money into that facility.”