November 15, 2001
Fair Board To Begin Search For New Racetrack Promoter After Negotiations Fail
More than eight hours of contract discussions evaporated in a split second as former track promoter Ron Anderson walked away from the negotiation table at the November 12 meeting of the Scotland County Fair Board.
The move left the fair board scrambling in an effort to secure the services of a track promoter for next season, and left many members scratching their heads about the process after numerous concessions were granted by the fair board in the negotiation process.
The two sides had first met to discuss a new contract on November 6 when Anderson highlighted a number of issues in the groups proposed contract that he deemed "unacceptable."
Following the first meeting, which lasted well over four hours, the fair board met in executive session to take Anderson's requests under advisement.
The initial proposal had called for a change in the payment schedule, asking for $600 rental payment for each event scheduled at the track. Anderson countered that, stating he should only have to pay $600 rent per week, regardless of the number of events held at the track.
"Anytime you have an event at the fair grounds there is additional wear and tear on the facilities that ultimately costs the fair board more money to repair," fair board president Phil Aylward stated.
Anderson countered stating "You can only have a function down there at the track if you can afford to make ends meet and we sure lacked a lot for paying for the program last year. If the promoter can not make any money there is not a lot of reason to promote."
Anderson did note that he was not anticipating having more than one event per week but he insisted the fair board was not going to tell him he could not do so by charging him additional rent for each extra race.
The second main sticking point was the length of any contract agreement. Anderson was requesting a 10-year lease, while the fair board made it clear it did not want to enter any long term agreement considering the working relationship's difficult times this year as well as the track's history for promoters.
"I will not discuss this without multi-year renewal," Anderson stated. "If you won't even guarantee multiple year renewals we don't need to discuss this any further. A promoter can not build a program without a guarantee. I want to work something out we can all work with. I wanted 10 years, because I wanted to build some things at the racetrack that the fair board doesn't want to invest in. I can not secure financing without some type of guaranteed future at the track."
Fair board president Phil Aylward attempted to explain the board's position on a long-term agreement.
"There has been a lot of animosity between both groups this year, yet we feel that the track has made a lot of big strides," Aylward said. "Lets go on another one year contract, see if we can get along, and then go from there."
Anderson countered by stating the animosity had caused a lengthy delay in the contract negotiations. He said if the board would not agree to an extended contract, he would like the first right of renewal on the contract at a fixed rental rate.
"We have wasted a lot of money because I could not pick up and run with marketing and sales for the track in September," Anderson stated. "Basically I have to start over again this year. I can't keep starting over, it costs too much money."
Both groups agreed that the two sides did not need to like each other, but simply needed to be able to work together in a professional business relation-ship. Each side also agreed that a lack of communication was a major problem this year.
Anderson suggested having a monthly meeting the first Saturday of each month at the racetrack. The fair board agreed to send two different members to the meeting each month to discuss track issues.
A third major issue was the fair board's desire to ban all Sprint Car races due to safety concerns.
Anderson countered stating "I am the promoter. It is not acceptable for the fair board to tell me what we race there. If the race track is not safe to race sprint cars then it is not safe enough to race anything."
Several issues however were agreed upon at the second meeting, after initially being considered sticking points at the initial contract negotiation.
Anderson had asked to have the Saturday night of the Scotland County Fair for races, but agreed to remove that request after the fair board indicated it was not negotiable since that evening is reserved for the fire department's demolition derby.
Anderson also agreed to take on all expenses of mowing the grounds for all events except during the fair. Initially he had requested the fair board handle the mowing duties.
The fair board agreed to lower the suggested contract deposit per Anderson's request to $2,000 from the initial contract level of $5,000.
The fair board removed the original right to termination of the contract as requested by Anderson while also agreeing to rewrite the fuel container requirements per the promoter's suggestion.
The two groups met in the middle regarding the expenses of track repairs prior to the season. Anderson had asked the fair board spend an estimated $11,000 to repair the crow's nest, the flag stand, the grandstands, the catch fence in front of the grandstands, and the guard wall on the back stretch.
The fair board agreed to cover all costs of repairing the grandstands as well as for installing the new catch fence in front of the grandstands while also repairing the flag stand and extending it out over the track to allow drivers better visibility of the flag. The group noted it had already made plans to make the grandstand repairs regardless of contract discussions.
Anderson agreed to pay for the construction of a new concrete guardrail on the back stretch as well as a proposed walk way from the pits to the grandstands.
After further discussing the issue the fair board also agreed to provide 100 gallons of paint for Anderson to use to paint any facilities he wanted to paint at the fairgrounds.
The fair board also pointed out that $300 of each week's rent would be placed in a maintenance fund for use by Anderson to make additional repairs at the track.
However the fair board stipulated that the weekly maintenance fund could not be used to pay any labor costs.
Anderson argued that this defeated the purpose of the fund.
"No labor costs is not acceptable," he said. "I have never claimed to be a non-profit organization. I pay all my help, it is not unreasonable to expect to pay someone to perform the maintenance."
The fair board countered that there was no control over labor costs, and felt the fund could easily be abused, for example by paying an employee $50 an hour to perform maintenance.
Despite the labor issue, both sides agreed upon the repair issues and moved onto other debate.
Anderson had initially refused the concept of allowing the fair board right of inspection at the track, which basically allowed the fair board free admittance to race events. After discussing the issue he agreed to the issue and noted he would provide free gate and pit passes to board members.
Ultimately the final issues boiled down to the track rent structure, the ban on sprint cars and the length of any agreement.
After lengthy discussion of the rent issue, the two sides seemed to reach an agreement that would bridge the gap. Instead of charging per event as initially desired by the fair board, the group agreed to charge $600 per week up to 20 events and then an additional $400 per race beyond 20, with half of both amounts going into the maintenance fund.
In addition the fair board agreed to allow Anderson to hold up to four special sprint car races at the track during the year.
Still neither side could agree upon the contract length. Anderson stated he felt it takes at least five years to build a program and apparently was holding out for either that figure or the annual first right of renewal.
"What are you all worried about?" Anderson asked. "If I pay my rent and hold the specific number of races what do you have to lose?"
"We want this thing to work but we are not going to be trapped into someone shoving something down our throat if it doesn't work out," Aylward stated in response to this argument.
"I felt I did more than I said I was going to this year and look how we ended up in this mess at the end of the year."
Fair board member Jimmie Winn said, "It didn't work this year, so we reworked the whole contract and now we need to be able to see if this new plan will work. Then we can revisit it again next year without having to worry about having it renewed automatically with no control over it"
Despite the opposition to anything beyond a one-year agreement the final concession came from the fair board in the form of an agreement to offer a three-year lease to Anderson.
This decision came in executive session. The meeting was reopened and Anderson was informed of the proposal.
He noted that the fair board still was asking for the right to annually raise the rent as much as 20%. He also questioned why the fair board had shifted the cost of the repairs from the Crow's nest to the promoter's side in the new proposal.
The issues were not discussed as Anderson commented that the deal had been down to two concerns before the last executive session and now had expanded to half a dozen.
At this point Anderson thanked the fair board for its time and walked away from the negotiation tables.