SPARC Race Track Project Presumed Dead

Walker Evans Walker Evans SPARC Race Track Project Presumed DeadA photo from 2018 shows what remains of Cooper Stadium.
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The Columbus Clippers played their final game at Cooper Stadium on September 1, 2008 — just over 10 years ago — and the minor league ballpark venue has sat empty ever since. What was once a historic Columbus tradition now sits crumbling and overgrown with weeds in 2018.

The current state of Cooper Stadium is much different than what was promised a decade ago by Arshot Investment Corporation. The organization announced plans for SPARC — short for the “Sports Pavilion & Automotive Research Center” — a multi-faceted $45 million development centered upon the conversion of the 47-acre ballpark site into a racetrack.

“The project will feature a paved half-mile track and will be anchored by a Technology Center designed to facilitate and showcase the Columbus region’s many contributions to automotive innovation,” states the SPARC website, which appears to have been last updated in 2016. “The project will also include a lodging facility, conference center, exhibition spaces and restaurants.”

A rendering of the SPARC project from 2012.

While the timeline for the completion of SPARC has been pushed back several times over the course of the past decade, there appears to be no tangible future in store for the project.

“We haven’t had a board meeting a year,” stated Dan ‘Boots’ Longenette, who is listed as both VP of Marketing and VP of Business Development for SPARC and Lion Real Estate Services. “I know the money’s in the bank, but something weird happened with the site… something to do with the water runoff. The project is stalled — that’s my personal opinion.”

Building a race track so close to Downtown has had its fair share of controversy from its first unveiling in 2008. In response, a grassroots group of concerned citizens quickly formed as Redevelop Our Area Responsibly (ROAR) with a goal of analyzing noise levels that would negatively affect surrounding neighborhoods and institutions.

“We raised some money and hired an acoustical consultant from New Jersey, but when we went to present our findings to the Southwest Area Commission, they wouldn’t let us present,” explained ROAR founding member Regina Acosta Tobin. “We were being stifled. Schottenstein is a big name in this community and we were constantly being asked why we should even bother fighting them.”

While the sound studies didn’t entirely halt the project in their own right, it raised enough concern to require 35 foot sound barriers to be installed as a part of the permit granted by the City of Columbus.

In 2012, Arshot officially purchased the Cooper Stadium property from Franklin County for $3.4 million with plans to move forward quickly with construction. Today, the property’s value listed by the Franklin County Auditor has dropped to $2.8 million — nearly a 20 percent decline during a six year period where real estate values in Columbus have rapidly risen.

“The site has eroded since the time of the last reappraisal — likely that’s the reason why the property value has declined,” stated David O’Neil, a Spokesperson with the office of Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo. “If it were to stay in disrepair, during the 2020 appraising, I expect it will probably go down even further.”

“Believe it or not, the taxes are still being paid,” he added.

Some portions of the stadium were demolished in 2014 — Photo by Walker Evans.

In 2014, representatives with the SPARC project announced prominent partnerships with national and local groups that included the Richard Petty Driving Experience, Michael Waltrip Racing, Pegram Motorcycles and Midwest Auto Group. Multiple inquiries made last week to all partnership organizations went unreturned as of the time of publishing this article.

Few concrete details have emerged since 2014 outside of updated timelines for construction. Tobin said that she’s only heard rumors, but understands that the project had too many obstacles to overcome, and became too costly to complete as originally planned. Columbus Department of Development Director Steve Schoeny stated that his team has not spoken with representatives at SPARC “in awhile” and was uncertain of the project’s current status.

“It is very disappointing and upsetting, but Bill Schottenstein [Principal at Arshot] has simply stopped communicating with Franklinton,” stated Trent Smith, Executive Director of the Franklinton Board of Trade. “So many promises were made, so much division was created and so many hopes got pumped up very high, only to be totally ignored and deflated.”

Bill Schottenstein did not respond to inquiries as of the time of publishing this article.

NEXT – Never Built Columbus: Stadiums and Arenas

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