Motorsports, research park proposed for Oak Ridge

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OAK RIDGE, Tenn. (WATE) — A motorsports and research park could be coming to Oak Ridge in the near future.

The city council unanimously voted Monday night on a resolution that states the city is interested in learning more about the park, which would be located at the Horizon Center off Oak Ridge Turnpike.

The property is owned by the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board, which means the final decision of sale would be up to the board, not city council.

Mark Watson, Oak Ridge city manager, said the IDB wanted to ask councilmembers how they felt about the project before digging into research and paperwork.

According to the proposal sent to Watson from Hardin Valley Land Partners, the park would be located on parcels 5, 6 and 7 of the Horizon Center.

The park would cover more than 300 acres and cost about $50 million.

The proposal states that the following areas would be part of the plan:

  • The main piece of the park would be a road course suitable for Federal Internationale de L’Automobile sanctioned events.
  • An amphitheater with a mixture of permanent and lawn seating for at least 7,000 people
  • Karting track
  • Paddock Club
  • Club House
  • Restaurants
  • Pro Shop
  • Garages
  • Day and Night Lodging
  • Meeting and conference space
  • RV Park
  • Public facilities such as walking trails and outdoor meeting spaces

Watson said the project could be economically beneficial to Oak Ridge.

He said that most of the Horizon Center has been unoccupied for more than 20 years.

It’s an industrial park, but industrial development would be costly in that area because the property would need to be leveled.

Watson said a motorsports park wouldn’t need to make many changes to the landscape.

“The contours cause the need for a lot of land development and reshaping. When we look at the cars and the auto-sports facility, they want contours and they want ups and downs,” Watson said.

During the city council meeting Monday night, several residents and non-residents voiced their opinion about the park.

Those against the park were worried about noise, the environment and property values decreasing.

City Council member Ellen Smith said she was concerned about the environmental impact, as well as the legalities of the project.

The current zoning of the property doesn’t allow residential space, and the plans for the park called for different types of lodging.

Those who spoke in favor of the park said noise wouldn’t be an issue, especially if the developer continued with the idea of following FIA regulations.

Watson said that the park would most likely only be used for research during the week and recreational on the weekends.

“Cars are moving from fossil fuel, to electric. They’re going to battery powers, and so there’s an opportunity to capitalize on the technology resources that are located in the Department of Energy facilities and use this as a support facility for them,” Watson said.

He believes the Oak Ridge National Laboratory would be able to make great use out of the park.

Watson said the park could bring new jobs to the city, as well as affluent visitors.

The Horizon Center is about a mile from the future general aviation airport that is currently in the works.

The letter from Hardin Valley Land Partners states that the “adjacency to the new Oak Ridge Airport will be especially attractive to a racing clientele accustomed to utilizing private aircraft to attend motorsports events across the country.”

Watson said it could be another four or six months before they hear more about the project.

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