Now, after three years of tentative planning and a change in leadership, Tracy’s California Blast LLC, the developer of the proposed Spirit of California entertainment park, has two more months to show Tracy city officials that the developer has the financial backing to buy 628 acres of city-owned land and meet city, county and state development requirements to proceed with the project.
Ultimately, it could make a 400-acre section between Corral Hollow Road and Tracy Boulevard and 125 acres along Sugar Cut leading up to Old River the new home of Spirit of California. The developer could also purchase 103 acres between the northern city limits and the new Holly Sugar youth sports complex.
The Spirit of California project could include 30 new businesses, including a golf course, a marina, an amusement park, a hotel and convention center, a vintners’ center and a casino, plus related support and promotion companies, according to Tracy’s California Blast CEO James Rogers.
The new plan
Rogers, of Los Gatos, describes a complex that would appeal to all ages, provide hundreds of jobs and potentially generate $250 million a year for the local economy.
Rogers said Wednesday, July 25, that during his meetings with local business leaders, potential investors and neighbors, he had found nothing but support.
“We’re seeing hundreds of petitions from citizens saying they want the project,” Rogers said.
The petitions he referenced came in the form of a letter that has been circulating around Tracy.
The letter briefly describes the project and its potential economic benefits and urges the Tracy City Council to back the proposal to give investors confidence that Tracy’s California Blast has city support.
An exclusive negotiating-rights agreement between the city and Tracy’s California Blast — which the Tracy City Council approved in April 2011 and extended March 20 for six months — gives Rogers until Sept. 20 to provide the names and financial information of investors who will pay for the environmental and planning studies needed to get the project started.
Rogers said that 15 investment groups are already on board, with more waiting to see how the project progresses. Those investors, he said, will provide the financial support to meet the Sept. 20 deadline.
“I’ve got different investors interested in different venues,” he said. “The one thing everyone does appreciate is the economic synergy that comes from putting 30 companies in one place.”
The city also wants to see a series of applications that would begin the planning process, including an application for a state-mandated environmental review. That would give Tracy’s California Blast until April 2014 to buy the land from the city.
The original plan
The project Rogers describes is much different from the project the city first considered in early 2009.
Jeff Macey, the former manager of the Altamont Motorsports Park, originally proposed a race track north of town in early 2009. He approached the city after it became clear that Altamont would be unable to renew the Alameda County permits that had allowed the track to operate in the hills just south of Interstate 580 since the early 1960s.
Altamont closed at the end of the 2008 season after neighbors complained about the noise and demanded that the county follow the letter of its zoning laws, which would not allow a race track in an agricultural area. Environmental reviews showed that facility improvements that would allow a zoning change would be too expensive.
Macey established an exclusive negotiating-rights agreement with the city of Tracy in March 2009 for 300 acres near Holly Sugar north of town, but the deadlines for that agreement expired when he failed to submit a development plan to the city.
He brought Rogers on as a partner in late 2010 and established a new agreement with the city in April 2011.
Macey said July 9 that he left the project in September 2011. He declined to discuss the details of his departure, but he did say that he was disappointed that he couldn’t continue to be involved and added that he still wanted to see the project continue.
Rogers confirmed that the development company bought out Macey’s share of the project for an undisclosed amount.
Macey said his difficulty during the initial proposal was finding investors to pay for the permitting and rezoning needed to build a race track on what is now farmland. He added that if the city of Tracy had supported a land-use change, he would have been able to attract investors.
“The problem with that project is that the city wasn’t going to take any responsibility for the EIR (environmental impact report),” he said. “If (investors) see a city spend money on a project, they feel pretty good.”
No sure sale
That type of land-use change can turn into a political issue with no guarantee that the city will support the project. While Rogers said he has initial support, Corral Hollow Road resident Robert Goulart said he and his neighbors are worried about the potential effects of a race track in the rural area.
“I passed out about 30 copies of the letter (petition), and most of the people agreed that they didn’t want a development like that,” Goulart said, adding that the exception was a nearby family that liked the idea of the amusement park.
Goulart said that just the noise from the race track would be enough to make him oppose the plan.
“I live about 1½ miles from the freeway, and I can hear the freeway noise,” he said. “If you put in a motorsports park, the noise would be horrendous.”
City awaits details
Andrew Malik, the city’s director of development and engineering, said that the environmental impact report, a requirement under the California Environmental Quality Act, would be the first official planning document to give his department a detailed look at the proposal.
“Before we move forward, there’s a project description that’s part of CEQA that has to take place. We haven’t gotten to that stage yet,” Malik said. “When we start an EIR, the project description has to be pretty solid. It will be pretty clear what they want to do if and when they get started.”
Councilman Steve Abercrombie said the City Council had not discussed the matter since the most recent request for an extension on the negotiating-rights agreement in March, though individual council members have talked with representatives of Tracy’s California Blast.
“Every time I’ve talked with them, they’ve given me the impression that they’ll meet the goals and deadlines of the city,” Abercrombie said. “We’ve been consistent from the beginning: You have to show us the financial backing for this.”
Mayor Brent Ives affirmed that the city had seen some financial information on the project but needed more details.
“That’s the crux of the matter,” Ives said. “That’s one of the conditions of entering into a development agreement.”
When the city approved the extension in March, Rogers also asked for a “welcome letter,” similar to the petition urging the city to support the project.
Ives said the city drafted a letter in response to that request. He noted that the city was not in a position to advocate for the project, but wanted to enable the developer to take the next step.
“It does say to an investor that they (Tracy’s California Blast) are in discussions with the city,” Ives said. “It’s kind of an official statement that we are listening. There’s nothing binding.”
Rogers said that the company has done enough of its own environmental studies that he’s confident Spirit of California will pass the state-mandated environmental review.
“We’re making sure we design it correctly prior to the city’s EIR consultants getting their hands on it,” he said, adding that this is one of the keys to giving investors confidence that the project will clear local government hurdles. “We’ve prepared massive amounts of documentation and financial models to show investors that we have done our homework.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.