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City loses famous cycle race for 2005
Friday, July 16, 2004
News staff writer
The 2005 North American Motorcycle Grand Prix won't be at Barber Motorsports Park but organizers are hopeful the track can get the world-renowned race in 2006.

Officials had been trying to bring the race to the park for 2005-07 but said Thursday they ran out of time to get financial commitments from local, state and federal governments. They had asked governments to pay about one-third of the $4 million needed to land the race, a trade-off for the tax revenues and other local economic impacts of the race.

Thursday's announcement came after more than a month of negotiations with the City of Birmingham. Mayor Bernard Kincaid sought control of the long-vacant Sears building downtown in exchange for a city commitment of $250,000 a year for three years to help land the race. The building is owned by George Barber.

The Bruno Event Team's Zoom Motorsports subsidiary was trying to bring the race to the Barber track, which is owned by a nonprofit foundation and cannot organize and produce events. The team's president, Gene Hallman, said delays in getting financial commitments from all sources, not just the city, led to the group's dropping pursuit of the race this year. "It's regretful, but it's not over."

Hallman said Barber's foundation was willing to spend $500,000 to improve the park and track for the race, which he said "would be the most prestigious international sporting event" ever in Alabama.

North America has not had a MotoGP race since 1993 when it was at California's Laguna Seca track, Barber's only competition to be host. Hallman said the prospect of a race in 2006 or later depends on negotiations with Laguna Seca and other factors, including backing from governments. He said MotoGP officials indicated there could be two North American MotoGP races a year.

He said the race has the potential to bring in 15,000 international tourists and thousands more from around the United States. It would also be broadcast in more than 200 countries to 320 million people.

Hallman said it was unfortunate talks bogged down with the city over the Sears building because the only thing the two had in common was George Barber.

Barber owns the building through his Barber Companies. He also established the nonprofit foundation to develop the track and museum with $56 million of his wealth. The foundation leases more than 700 acres from the City of Birmingham for $1 a year for 80 years with an option to buy it at fair market value.

According to Don Erwin, vice president of corporate development with the Barber Companies, Kincaid wanted an identical lease-purchase agreement for the Sears building. During the lease period, the city could do whatever it wanted with the property.

Kincaid has said the agreement with Barber on the track lease included a commitment to make improvements on the Sears property.

Erwin said the property, a city block between First and Second avenues north and 15th and 16th Streets, was recently appraised at $3 million. The land off I-20 near Leeds where the Barber track sits was appraised at less than $1 million before the track was built.

Leasing the Sears building has been difficult, Erwin said, but he denied Kincaid's accusation that Barber had become an absentee landlord, letting the property deteriorate.

Kincaid said Thursday he is not responsible for losing the race.

"If the MotoGP is dead, it didn't die at the city's hands," he said. "If the Sears building were fixed the funding would be there."

News staff writer Barnett Wright contributed to this report.
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