SONOMA, Calif. (Dec. 14) Sears Point Raceway officials Tuesday unveiled the latest version of a proposed modernization master plan, showcasing two key modifications designed to address community concerns.

Entering the final stages of the Sonoma County environmental review process, the raceway's modernization proposal now calls for a dramatic reduction in the number of grandstand seats and commits Sears Point to strict attendance limits for future events.

"From day one, our goal has been to upgrade this facility in a way that is compatible with the special qualities of this region," said Steve Page, president and general manager of Sears Point Raceway. "These changes reflect nearly three years of study and outreach in the community to understand and address the major areas of concern.

"This plan, as it has ultimately evolved, will turn Sears Point into one of the finest motor racing venues in the world and a facility that the entire county can be proud of."

The original Sears Point Master Plan called for the construction of 45,000 permanent grandstand seats in Phase I and additional 55,000 grandstand seats in Phase II. In order to address concerns, raceway officials have eliminated Phase II entirely and are capping the total grandstand construction at 35,000 - a reduction in total grandstand seating of more than 300 percent.

Instead, the raceway will return to its traditional event environment in which the majority of spectators at the largest races are seated on adjacent hillsides. Those hillside areas will be enhanced by the introduction of naturally landscaped terraces as part of an overall slope stabilization and erosion control program.

The remaining 35,000 permanent grandstand seats will consist of 25,000 seats adjacent to the start-finish line, and additional 10,000 seats concentrated in Turn 7. In total, Sears Point will eliminate 65,000 grandstand seats from the layout proposed in the original master plan.

Sears Point officials have also agreed to cap attendance at future spectator events with specific limits to be incorporated into the facility's use permit. Those attendance caps would be based on projections outlined in the raceway's Environmental Impact Report and would limit the track to one event day each year with a crowd as large as 100,000 and no more than seven days with crowds in excess of 20,000. A series of additional caps would limit the total days each year that raceway events would have a measurable impact on local traffic conditions.

"Our modernization plans are designed around a very specific set of business objectives -- to upgrade an aging dysfunctional facility and prepare us to compete in the modern business environment," said Page. "Our commitment to this community is to meet those objectives in a positive and responsible fashion."

Sears Point's proposed caps are tied to the attendance projections used as the basis for traffic and other studies in the Environmental Impact Report for the raceway's modernization project. The caps, as proposed, would "lock in" those projections as the maximum future level for attendance at the raceway's major spectator events.

The listed limits include maximum attendance and (number of event days at that attendance) per year: 115,000 (1), 55,000 (3), 35,000 (2), 25,000 (1), 20,000 (2) and 12,000 (6).

In addition, raceway officials will reduce the height of the east grandstands at the start-finish line from 62 to 51 feet. This will eliminate the entire second floor and reduce the visual impact from the highway.

Aside from these changes, the rest of the modernization plan remains intact. Key elements include:

New buildings that are visually compatible with the grasslands and rolling hills of the surrounding landscape.

Permanent offices to replace trailer facilities and provide room for business growth.

Dramatically expanded entrance and access roads to reduce traffic congestion around the raceway.

A new system of walkways, tunnels, bridges and spectator shuttle routes to separate vehicle and pedestrian traffic and improve internal circulation.

Upgraded infrastructure including new water and sewer systems, roads and indoor restrooms.

Beautiful trees and landscaping to screen the track from Highway 121 and provide shade and picnic areas for visitors. Sears Point has been an important part of the Sonoma County economy since it was built in 1968. Approximately 1,045 full-time equivalent jobs are directly supported by operations at the raceway complex, and that number will rise by about 50 percent to 1,587 once the modernization plan is complete. Moreover, the raceway currently generates $63.3 million annually to the Sonoma County economy, and that number is also expected to jump by nearly 50 percent after modernization to $94.4 million.

"Sears Point Raceway is one of the most dilapidated of all the major sports venues in the Bay Area and in desperate need of a facelift," Page said. "It is essential that Sears Point modernize its facilities to enable the raceway to maintain its competitive business position and to offer its customers, competitors, ticket-buyers, sponsors and tenants a modern, comfortable and functional facility environment."

Sears Point Raceway is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., which also owns and operates the following facilities: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, Lowe's Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. SMI also provides food, beverage and souvenir merchandising services through its Finish Line Events subsidiary, and manufactures and distributes smaller-scale, modified racing cars through its 600 Racing subsidiary.

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