By Jessica Mathews /

The potential sale of a large parcel of land could result in a large motorsport complex in the City of Howell.

Council met virtually Monday night and heard two very different proposals for the 216-acre Highland-Howell property located along I-96 between Lucy Road and Michigan Avenue. The City has been trying to find the right use for the property and has been actively marketing it for the past five years. Past deals in the works fell through. Council unanimously approved a motion directing staff to negotiate and finalize a purchase agreement with JD Racing, who own JD Racing Indoor Karting in Novi, within the next 30 days. They’re proposing a large motorsport-type complex that would feature a racetrack, garage condominiums, retail and commercial components as well as recreation and entertainment aspects. The two said the project is unique and would generate traffic and attention throughout the state and globally as there’s a large demographic for motorsport enthusiasts, gear heads and businesses as well. The other proposal came from Biltmore Development and was more of a traditional residential development – which Council felt had more experience and resources.

Jordan Dick stressed they want to work with people and integrate a design that fits well and compliments the great community that’s already in place. He said they want the project to become a destination, adding it’s not intended to take away any business from the City and they’re big on supporting the local community. Dick said their objective is to share a genuine motorsport experience in a way that’s complimentary to where they’re located and create opportunity – saying they’re not trying to host big huge racing race events. It was said that there would be no more noise than what’s currently coming from the freeway and would be easy to mitigate.

Mayor Nick Proctor felt it was an interesting concept and would be an attraction that could bring a lot to the community but also wanted assurances the property would be developed out the way envisioned. Councilwoman Jeanette Ambrose commented that racing is unique and special and thought they had a great plan. She said considering Michigan and Detroit’s history with cars, it’s not a stretch to say that people will be drawn to it – adding homes aren’t special but the race track is and they won’t get another chance at this.

Some council members expressed reservations about the project being a new enterprise for the father and son duo and a lack of experience. Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Manor said he thought Council was taking a big risk with with the proposal but agreed with everyone that it’s a very intriguing project with a lot of advantages. He commented that the safe bet would be the Biltmore proposal but said the City is perhaps better off long term with the race track. Manor voiced concerns about their ability to finance and finish the project but said he would support Council in whatever direction they wanted to go. He cautioned everyone that it’s a pretty big risk on the part of JD Racing and modest on the City’s part. He requested they tighten up the proposal and that more money be put up front. Manor also requested some greater assurance they have the resources to get the project done - not just be selling the first lot and using that money to pay for the next lot etc.

Mark Dick offered assurances they had the financial resources and partners aligned to complete the project. It was noted it’s still too early know what type of tax revenue would be generated and a planned unit development or PUD process would be utilized. There are also some outstanding Panhandle Eastern Pipeline easement issues on the property, which the City’s legal counsel has been working on. Easement restrictions will impact any potential project on the site and how the property is developed. It was noted things are getting close and counsel was optimistic about getting something finalized. Once a potential purchase agreement is worked out, it would be presented to Council for final approval.