Winnebago County Board of Supervisors to discuss use of race track in Oshkosh
By Bert Lehman
For much of the race season, the future of the race track in Oshkosh — Oshkosh Speedzone Raceway — has been in doubt.
Local television stations in Green Bay aired stories in May about how negotiations between Winnebago County and the promoters of Oshkosh Speedzone had broken down.
In a news report that appeared on WLUK Channel 11 out of Green Bay in May, it was stated in the story that Winnebago County was losing money on the race track. In that same story, Robert Way, Winnebago County Parks Director said Lifest had offered to put a permanent stage on the Expo grounds.
“Something like an outdoor stage can bring in a lot of revenue,” Way was quoted in the story.
In a different story on the same topic, that was aired on WGBA Channel 26 out of Green Bay, Way stated that if the county hadn’t asked for an increase in rent, the race promoters in Oshkosh would have paid less in rental fees than other county owned race tracks.
WBAY Channel 2 aired a story in June in which Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris was quoted, “We have a chance to have Lifest build a permanent stage at their expense on our property, in which we could then use for other items including the county fair or having music events in the grandstands, but that’s probably incompatible for racing.”
In that story, it was also stated that Harris said racers have avoided paying fair market value for rent in the past because they “pleaded proverty” and that is why the promoters rejected a contract that would have required them to pay $22,000 to rent the track in 2017.
“We basically subsidized them for 10 years, and we wanted a fair return on our facilities,” Harris told Channel 2.
Also in June, supporters of the race track were not allowed to voice their concerns at a Winnebago County Board of Supervisors meeting. They were allowed to voice their concerns at a July meeting, but the race track issue was not discussed by the board.
On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the board will finally discuss the race track. On the agenda is Resolution No. 047-82016: Designate the Useage of the Grandstand & Racetrack Area of the Winnebago County Fairgrounds and Expo Center. The resolution was submitted by Winnebago County Board Supervisor Maribeth Gabert of District 12.
The resolution calls for the board of supervisors to designate “the use of the grandstand & racetrack area for the purpose of motorsports events or other uses that may come to light that are compatible with the present facilities and improvements.”
It also states that the designated use “shall stand until such time as there would be no interest by motorsports competitors and spectators.”
The resolution concludes, “The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors that it charges the Winnebago County Parks Department with the task of finding a promoter for the racetrack, or alternatively to enter into further negotiations with the present track promoters, as they have been in good standings to date and have a successfully proven track record operating the race track.”
I am glad to see the board of supervisors finally discuss the race track issue. That said, in my opinion, before any decisions are made regarding the future use of the expo grounds, some questions need to be answered, and information released.
- As previously stated, from a WLUK Channel 11 news story in May, it was stated Winnebago County claims it is losing money on the race track. If that is the case, Winnebago County should release itemized financial reports regarding revenue generated by the race track and expenditures that were made because of the race track. I did find the 2016 Winnebago County Budget on its website, but all revenue and maintenance figures for the Parks Department are lumped together.
If the County is losing money on the race track, let’s see the numbers.
Seeing the numbers would also help validate the claim Harris made that the county has subsidized the race track for 10 years, and that the county just wants a fair return on its facilities.
And while releasing financial numbers, let’s see the revenue and expenditure figures for the county in regard to Lifest. How much does Lifest pay the county? How much does the county spend each year in association to having Lifest use its facilities?
- In the May story done by WGBA Channel 26, Way said the current Oshkosh promoters would have paid less in rental fees than other county owned race tracks. If that is true, the amount in rent the current promoters are paying should be released, as well as the rent figures for the other county owned race tracks that Winnebago County based its rent figures off of. This would also include the names of the other county owned tracks.
- Regarding Lifest offering to put up a permanent stage at the expo grounds, in the WLUK Channel 11 story, Way said an outdoor stage can bring in a lot of revenue. The question needs to be asked, “How will this bring in a lot of revenue?” Other than Lifest, what other events does the county plan to host that would use the outdoor stage?
Also, please quantify “a lot.” How much is “a lot” of revenue? And will this extra revenue offset the lost race track rent payments?
In the WBAY Channel 2 story, Harris also stated that the county would be able to use the permanent music stage for other events like the county fair and music events.
The obvious question is, “What additional music events do the county plan to host at the expo grounds?”
The Oshkosh area already has Country USA and Rock USA, as well as the Waterfest music performances at Leach Amphitheatre during the summer. There are also concerts held during EAA at the EAA grounds.
Is there enough demand in the Oshkosh area for more music events?
- In this day and age, most entertainment facilities are moving toward options that provide flexibility in the type of event that can be held there. This helps maximize future revenue. Building a permanent music stage reduces flexibility of the expo grounds. It would be “throwing all your eggs in one basket.”
Concerts have been held at Lambeau Field and Miller Park, and a temporary stage has been erected. You don’t see the Green Bay Packers or Milwaukee Brewers organizations rushing out to have an entity outside the organizations build a permanent music stage in their stadiums.
I acknowledge that is an extreme example, but I think you get my point. The more types of events that can be held at a venue maximizes revenue of the facility.
Having an entity build a permanent structure on a piece of property that they don’t own also creates more unanswered questions. Will the county be required to leave this on the property forever and never have the option to remove it? Who pays for the maintenance of structure? Does the county have to get approval from Lifest to use the facility?
Obviously since I am a race fan, I would hate to see stock car racing come to an end at Oshkosh Speedzone. Whether you are a race fan or not, every citizen in Winnebago County, especially the Oshkosh area, should demand answers to the above questions before a decision is made to remove the race track and build a music stage there.
The race track facility at the Expo grounds in Oshkosh is one of the finest in the state of Wisconsin. This is a sentiment that has been expressed to me by drivers who reside outside the state of Wisconsin when I have interviewed them when they raced at the Oshkosh Speedzone.
For those interested in attending the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors meeting on Aug. 15, it will start at 6 p.m. and will be held in the Supervisors’ Room on the fourth floor of the Winnebago County Courthouse, located at 415 Jackson St. in Oshkosh.