Major motocross race not coming to Grady County…for now

Grady County Commissioners on Tuesday voted to cancel an upcoming public hearing on a proposed amendment to the county’s land use regulations that would have permitted the Thor Winter Olympics to be held here each November.
The board took action this week after learning that Wyn Kern of Unlimited Sports MX Events had executed an agreement to keep the annual motocross racing event in Newberry, Fla. near Gainesville for the next one to three years.
Kern had approached local officials late last month about the possibility of purchasing a tract of land from the city on Wight Road to stage the event, which attracts thousands for the six-day race.
According to Kern, the event has previously been held at Gatorback Cycle Park outside of Gainesville, Fla., but after 15 years at that location he had been unsuccessful in renegotiating a lease to host the 2017 race there until last week.
The Cairo City Council is set to open bids on the sale of approximately 250 acres off Wight Road that Kern had identified as a potential track site for the annual racing event. Bids are being accepted until 4 p.m. this Friday and will be opened at 4:15 p.m. in the city manager’s office.
It is not known if Kern intends to submit a bid on the property in light of the recent developments.
Opponents of the proposed motocross event, the sale of the property and the amending of the land use regulations appeared before both the county commission and city council this week to renew their opposition to the plan.
On Monday night at the city council meeting, Wayne Tootle, a resident of Wight Road, told city officials they had the right to reject “any and all” bids. Tootle said if the high bidder for the property’s sole purpose of purchasing the property was to construct a motocross race track “we ask you to reject that bid.”
Sydney Gainey, whose property in south Grady County is near an existing motocross training facility, told the city council since Kern had reached an agreement to keep the race in Florida local leaders would have time to “slow down and allow all things to come to the surface and make a real good evaluation before making any final decisions.”
On Tuesday night, both Tootle and Gainey spoke to the county commission.
Gainey suggested that amending the land use regulations could open up other issues. He also suggested the board wait until a new District 1 commissioner is selected before making any final decisions.
“We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. If they don’t purchase the land is there really any reason to proceed?” Gainey asked. He said the race’s remaining in Florida for the next year to three years would “buy us some time.”
Tootled echoed Gainey’s call to hold off and wait until a new commissioner is elected before making any decisions.
Grady County Attorney Kevin S. Cauley noted that the amendment he had presented to the board on Tuesday night was only a first draft, but he admitted that the proposal greatly reduced setbacks and eliminated any noise level requirements for the 15 days or less the event track would be operating. Cauley said that there may be other restrictions the board may wish to include in such an amendment and he, too, suggested taking time to study the matter further.
“We need to look at it comprehensively. These rules would apply throughout the county and are not site specific,” Cauley said.
The commissioners had told Cauley two weeks ago to draft an amendment to the ordinance that would permit the facility to operate up to 15 days per year in an effort to accommodate Kern and his desire to bring the event to Grady County.
Commissioner LaFaye Copeland, whose district includes the Wight Road neighborhood, said she had been “bombarded with calls in opposition” to the change. Copeland also said that she, nor the board, were attempting to keep the matter secret. “I know the first a lot of people knew about it was when it showed up in The Messenger, but we weren’t trying to keep it secret,” she said.
Copeland said she had contacted officials in Newberry, Fla. where the annual event is currently staged and she was told that city officials there were trying to help Kern work with the family that owns the property to keep the race there.
Colleen Millsaps, owner of Millsaps Training Facility, and a proponent of bringing the race here said Tuesday night that Kern risked losing major sponsors for the event and did not have enough time to get a track ready for the November races to be held here. “He had to make a deal with the devil,” she said.
Millsaps said the race would not come next year or maybe not even the next, but she was hopeful the 50th anniversary event could be held here.
Several local residents voiced opposition to allowing the event to come to Grady County including Angela Hopkins, owner of Auntie Ann’s Daycare, located next door to the proposed track.
“We’ve been there since 2001 and we have little ones up to four years old there,” she said. Ms. Hopkins said she always told parents their children would be in a safe, quiet environment, but if hundreds and hundreds of strangers on motorbikes are allowed to come right where her daycare is located it would not make her happy or secure.
Chad Gainey, a resident of Gainey Road, encouraged the board to do “further homework on the economics of the race” and “look into it more.”
Millsaps took issue with allegations of the matter being rushed or swept under the rug. She said that she attempted to contact all of the residents of Wight Road and she also met with commissioners and city councilmen to inform them about what was being proposed.
Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sara Heady encouraged county leaders and the community to “take time to think about the economic impact” the annual event would bring to the community. “It’s going to be good for our county and our businesses,” she said.
The chamber executive asked that opponents of the motocross event to “stop bickering” and to consider the economic impact.
Commissioners voted unanimously to cancel the public hearing that had been scheduled for Sept. 28. Commissioner Keith Moye said that if any change in the land use regulations was considered by the board in the future a public hearing would be required and the public would be notified.
The Thor Winter Olympics is held the week of Thanksgiving each year. The event originally began in 1971 as the Florida Mini Olympics.

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