Traffic, noise and community opportunity were all concerns raised during a meeting of Westel residents and new neighbor Flatrock, USA.
Flatrock, USA, represented by Rusty Bittle, recently purchased the Plateau Partnership Park in Westel with plans to build a multi-million-dollar motorsports complex at the site just off Interstate 40.
Bittle fielded questions from about 150 members of the community Tuesday at a forum at Pine View Elementary.
“There’s a lot of things I want to do, and it’s going to take a lot of time, a lot of planning, and a lot of construction,” Bittle told the community.
Work on the first phase of the project, estimated at a $100 million investment, includes construction of the 6-mile track to host FIA motorsports events for cars and motorcycles. It could also be configured for various types of events, including off-road racing.
There will be custom garages and a membership club area, as well, and a driver safety training center where people can practice advanced driving skills. The park will also include a kart track for public and competitive use. Bittle said the karts can help introduce youth to motorsports, as well as be available for team-building and private events.
The track construction, driving center and karting facility could take two years to complete. Amenity construction would begin after that.
When complete, the park will include:
• an entertainment area for concerts and movie nights
• restaurants, from a gourmet, farm-to-table restaurant to more casual dining and concession options
• overnight lodging options, including hotel and conference center, campground, glamping and treehouses
• residential housing, including single-family homes
• vineyard and winery, a craft brewery and coffee roastery
• walking trails, bicycle rentals and, possibly, rope challenge courses, and frisbee golf
• a seasonal activity area to host festivals, a pumpkin patch or other family-friendly activities and events
• research and development area for vehicle technology development
Bittle estimated 5-10 years to complete the full complex.
Bittle pointed to the motorsports park in Leeds, AL, Barber Motorsports Park, which has brought $1.2 billion to the local economy in the past 10 years. However, Barber doesn’t offer the additional amenities Bittle envisions for Flatrock.
The project is being privately financed and does not include tax abatement incentives, such as a PILOT, Cumberland County Mayor Allen Foster said.
The project is projected to create several hundred jobs. Bittle said the park will operate year-round, with full-time positions. There may also be seasonal and part-time opportunities, as well. Some asked for a hiring preference for people of the community and consideration of local construction companies during the construction process.
Jeremy Hale, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Flatrock Entertainment Group, said there will be announcements of hiring events and an effort to reach out to local contractors as work progresses.
“We would love for you guys to be a part of the construction process,” Bittle said.
Residents also questioned infrastructure to the site. Currently, there is no natural gas line serving the Westel area, broadband internet options are limited, and there are concerns about water and electric service.
Bittle said conversations with Rockwood Water, Sewer and Natural Gas are ongoing.
“We would like to bring gas into this area,” Bittle said.
Internet service, however, is handled by private companies, he said, and Flatrock is facing the same challenge of the residents in accessing high-speed internet service.
“We need support there,” Bittle said. “Hopefully we can help you guys get better internet. But they function on their own, and it’s not something the developer can do themselves.”
Foster said the Ben Lomand Connect had received a USDA Reconnect Grant in February 2020 to install fiber internet to serve Smith Mountain in the eastern area of Cumberland County. That project requires installing a line down Westel Rd., he told the group.
“It is coming to this area,” Foster said. “It’s not going to be tomorrow. It’s going to take them a while.”
Foster said Ben Lomand must fulfill its grant requirements and then can start “backfilling” service.
Internet providers are also evaluating portions of the county to apply for additional broadband grants.
Other residents questioned the impact of increased population and traffic on law enforcement. Sheriff Casey Cox said, “If the population increases in the area, obviously there is going to have to be a stronger law enforcement presence in the area … that will be something myself and the commission would have to look at add more officers to the force.”
The park will have on-site medical and fire response.
Residents questioned how the existing roads would handle the increased traffic. The primary entrances for the park will be off Hwy. 299, Westel Rd, and Pig Path Rd.
Bittle said, “We have no plans to come in and start widening roads.”
Pig Path Rd. may need some improvements in terms of resurfacing, but Bittle didn’t anticipate a need to widen the road at this time. And, road projects typically fall under the jurisdiction of state and county road departments.
As a real estate developer, Bittle said road improvements typically come some time after traffic has grown in an area.
However, he said Flatrock will host mostly small crowds and the few larger events a year would not warrant widening the road. A typical track day would include 150-200 cars, though the drivers would be traveling with family and friends, often in the same vehicle.
“Track day weekends are pretty small,” he said.
As for larger, sanctioned race events, those would also be small with an upward estimate of 5,000 people. People would also filter in over a couple of days and come-and-go during the event.
“It’s not a super-size, mass crowd,” Bittle said. As for comparisons to other tracks, like Atlanta, Bittle said those races were very large and it is unlikely Flatrock would be able to attract such events.
As for noise, Bittle explained that the cars spread out along the six-mile course. There will be vegetation planted to help provide a buffer.
“I think we’re far enough from any house that borders us that what you’re going to hear isn’t going to be much different than what you would hear with a Harley passing your house,” he said. “And most of the cars are street cars.”
Also, the track would operate from about 9 a.m. on a race weekend, with periodic race activity until about 5 p.m. There would be few night events.
Also, Bittle said the track will not only observe quiet hours on Sunday, but also hold worship services.
Concerts would also be smaller events, following a national trend of more intimate concert settings of a few thousand people.
Bittle said, “We see very small, intimate concerts and summer movie nights.”
Another speaker said many in the community did not own high-performance sports cars that would be run on the track. Instead, many in the community take part in motocross racing and offroads ATV sports.
“It would help the community, it would help all of East Tennessee if you would put in a motocross track,” the person, who did not identify himself, said. “If you look at motocross, you’ve got 4-5-year-old kids on motorcycles all the way up to guys like me just trying to have a little bit of fun.”
Bittle said the karting track would be very affordable and noted the track can be configured for off-road events.
“Karting is very affordable and it’s how I got my start in racing. It’s a very inexpensive,” he said. “We will have an off-road area, and it will be a multi-purpose off-road area. We will be able to do side-by-sides, ATVs, rally cars, motorcycles. We will be able to accommodate those things, as well.”
Bittle also noted they hope to offer many events and activities that would appeal to the families of the area, such as food truck festivals, movie nights, seasonal activities, and more.
Some residents said they have been receiving letters offering to purchase their property in the area. Bittle said Flatrock is not soliciting property in the area and asked anyone receiving a letter claiming to be from the company to reach out to his company.
“That is not us,” Bittle said.
Flatrock USA is still developing their website. Right now, you can follow their progress on their Facebook page.