Our View: Should city sponsor kart race? Check it out first

09/23/2013 6:09 PM

09/23/2013 10:56 PM

The Modesto City Council is scheduled to discuss tonight whether to put up more than a quarter of a million dollars to sponsor a super kart race in Modesto next summer. City staff estimates that the city could clear about $52,000 on the event and bring in $3 million in tourism revenue for the community.

The possibility sounds appealing, and we surely would endorse something that boosts Modesto’s reputation as well as its economy.

City parks and recreation director Julie Hannon is very confident that the city can make this work, financially and logistically, and if the council approves the contract, she and two of her staff plan to go this coming weekend to Lancaster, which is hosting a similar event. Hannon said the purpose is to learn about the track setup and other details.

We would like to see the council postpone its decision a week and send one or two of its own members to Lancaster as well. That would give the council a firsthand look and an opportunity to talk to residents, business people and others there about the pros and cons of this event.

The city has experience hosting a major sports event, with four years as a stage in the Amgen Tour of California. Relying on sponsors and volunteers as well as city staff, Modesto ended up in the black, although only slightly, and with a feather in its cap.

Kart racing is an entirely different sport, of course, but has a sizable following. And our community has, over the years, produced some outstanding success stories in motorsports, including kart racing. The karts look like miniature Formula One race cars, but can reach a stunning 100 mph and go from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds.

Our concern is about not about the event itself but about the financial risk the city could be taking as a full partner in promoting this event with a Temecula firm, SuperKart! USA. City staff’s estimate shows the city doing a little better than breaking even if the event draws 10,500 paying spectators over the three days, Aug. 1-3, plus $175,000 in sponsorships and more than $27,000 in profits from beverage sales.

The city’s estimated expenses include $113,000 for event and track setup, $35,000 for marketing, $50,000 for digital and sound and $40,000 for security over three days. The security requirements include monitoring the crowds, of course, but also assuring that the expensive equipment is protected overnight.

If the contract is approved with SuperKart!, either the city or the private firm can cancel by Dec. 31 without penalty. Given the dire predictions that the mayor and others have made about city finances if Measure X does not pass in November, we would assume that the council would want to reconsider this $285,000 expense if the sales tax measure is defeated.

There is a cancellation penalty starting with $50,000 and rising to $250,000 as of June 1.

The council’s Economic Development Committee sent this staff proposal on to the full council on a 3-0 vote. If the council fully vets the figures and checks out the Lancaster experience, we think that it could be an exciting addition to the summer calendar.

Downtown Modesto would be a hopping place next August, with super kart races the first weekend of the month and X Fest the second weekend.

The council meets at 5:30 p.m. today in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place.

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