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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 4, 2003

Land swap may yield new raceway, homes

 •  Graphic: Proposed motorsports center ar Kalaeloa

By Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

A tentative agreement has been reached that allows the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to build homes for Native Hawaiians in Kunia and a private group to construct a new Hawai'i Raceway Park at Kalaeloa.

Officials for DHHL and the group confirmed yesterday that the agreement had been reached after the Hawaiian Homes Commission unanimously cleared the way Dec. 19 for the department to negotiate the deal.

Under the agreement, Hawai'i Motorsports Center Limited Partners would purchase 180 acres of agricultural land along Kunia Road across from the Royal Kunia subdivision, and exchange it for a 140-acre Hawaiian Home Lands parcel at the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station to build a new raceway park.

Mike Oakland of Hawai'i Motorsports Center LP, president of the general partnership that owns the existing Hawai'i Raceway Park, confirmed that the tentative deal would allow his organization to build a new race facility next to the state Kalaeloa Airport. The renamed Hawai'i Motorsports Center would be more than twice the size of the racing venue at Campbell Industrial Park.

Oakland would not disclose the estimated purchase price of the Campbell Estate parcel, but said the proposed facility would consist of several different racing tracks and cost about $20 million for its first phase.

Campbell Estate official Donna Goth confirmed that the parcel on the 'ewa side of Kunia was involved in the proposed swap.

Further appraisals will be needed to finalize the values of each property for the swap, according to parties involved in the deal.

Hawaiian Home Lands spokesman Francis Apoliona confirmed the agreement. He said a land exchange agreement needed to be drafted, and final approval must come from the Hawaiian Homes Commission and the U.S. Department of Interior.

Apoliona said the proposed deal would provide much-needed land on O'ahu to build homes for qualified Native Hawaiians. The island has only 4 percent of Hawaiian Home Lands, but 65 percent of those on the waiting list, he said.

The O'ahu waiting list of applicants has grown greater than 7,200 since the success of its recent housing projects in Papakolea and Kapolei, he said.

"O'ahu is the employment center of our state, so we have been looking at ways to build more housing here," Apoliona said. Even if the deal is approved, he guessed the department probably could not build homes at the site for 10 to 15 years, until basic infrastructure is in place.

As for Hawai'i Raceway Park, Oakland believes an expanded racing facility could bring Hawai'i professional-level racing events, yet still be available for local drivers.

"It's easier for a promoter to bring big races here when you have an existing venue, instead of trying to construct a temporary racing facility, which costs $5 million to $6 million each time to build up and take down," he said.

At 69 acres, the current Hawai'i Raceway Park built in 1964 is bulging at the seams with 160,000 drivers and spectators visiting the tracks each year, Oakland said.

"This land we're currently standing on is zoned for agricultural use, so we're not allowed too many improvements here, even for building more restrooms," Oakland said. "The new site is double the area and would also allow several events to go on at the same time."

Oakland said the new raceway park would continue local weekly races and driving classes it already showcases. It would be built in phases, as private money was available, and the old raceway park would operate until it was ready, he said.

"We've got to build this so it does not impact the local racers and put them out of business," Oakland said. "I'm a grassroots racer myself, so this track will be designed for the little guy as well as for the big boys."

Oakland has been trying to move the 38-year-old Hawai'i Raceway Park to Kalaeloa for more than a decade. After an arduous public

review process, the Navy approved the plan. But the 1995 Hawaiian Home Lands Recovery Act granted the parcel to DHHL, which led to negotiations.

Oakland said about 7,000 temporary bleachers at the current track would be brought over to the new site. Permanent bleachers would be phased in and total about 28,000 seats.

He estimated it would cost about $20 million to construct a 1.1-mile tri-oval track, an interior 1-mile road course, a quarter-mile drag strip, a Ñ-mile stock car track, a go-cart track, start-line building, and 2,000 parking stalls.

Oakland did not have an estimate for the facility's second phase, which would include pit-row facilities and a racing-theme amusement park.

He estimated it would cost more than $100 million to expand to a world-class racing venue.

"This track is going to come together in phases, slow and steady. But we think we'll get there," he said.

Reach Scott Ishikawa at sishikawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-8110.