Developer puts brakes on Oak Ridge Motorsports Park plans

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A developer of the Oak Ridge Motorsports Park is putting the brakes on plans and changing directions.

An official with the park announced the decision to abandon the proposed Horizon Center track Tuesday after more than a year of discussions between developers, the city, and the federal Department of Energy.

Rusty Bittle, developer and founding partner of the Oak Ridge Motorsports Park, said he decided to relocate the project to another East Tennessee community “that offers more attractive options for the project.”

“An East Tennessee motorsports park is a legacy project for me,” stated Bittle in a news release. “The state of Tennessee has a reputation for automotive excellence, we are leading the way on advanced transportation technologies like electric vehicles, lightweight composites and artificial intelligence. A motorsports park will help the state and host community build an international reputation for next generation transportation technologies and become a tourism destination for automotive enthusiasts.”

The change comes after a letter sent by the DOE to the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board last week outlined the next steps to be taken.

After initiating the project 18 months ago, completing an Environmental Assessment, and drafting a new zoning district to accommodate the special needs of the project, the DOE said the project would not fall under a 2003 agreement between it and the city for the proposed Horizon Center site.

The agreement specifies that the Horizon Center be used for manufacturing and processing plants; research and development, warehousing and wholesaling facilities; public or semipublic uses; offices; and services industries.

A “motorsports park” was not explicitly noted as a use, therefore an environmental impact study would be required for the project to proceed.

The development board, or ultimately the Oak Ridge Motorsports Park, would be responsible for the costs associated with the required Environmental Impact Statement and mitigation. The additional testing could cost an excess of $7 million and take an upwards of 3-4 years, with no guarantees that final approval would be received.

“I prayed about it,” stated Bittle. “It was a tough decision because the thousands of people that have supported the project and wanted it to be in Oak Ridge have become my friends.

“I am excited about potential new locations, and I think our supporters and motorsports enthusiasts from around the country will be too. I look forward to sharing specific details very soon.”

Bittle said the new locations under review are “shovel ready,” meaning the host communities have zoning in place to accommodate Bittle’s $50 million motorsports park concept, and have 300-plus acre parcels of contiguous property “unencumbered by governmental bureaucracy.”

Tilke Engineers & Architects has been retained to draft the concept for the park and design and manage construction of the park.

Bittle plans to share more information about the new locations and rebranding as the project progresses.

“There are so many communities in East Tennessee that are looking for innovative ways to grow their economy and rebuild after the global pandemic,” added Bittle. “I look forward to being part of their future.”

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