GRANTSVILLE — What began as a dream project from the visionary mind of famed Utah sports and business icon Larry H. Miller could now become a first-of-its-kind racing, training and educational complex that produces the next generation of racing champions, engineers and designers.
Tooele County officials Wednesday officially announced an agreement in principle to sell the 511-acre Miller Motorsports Park for $20 million to the Mitime Investment and Development Group — a subsidiary of the largest independent automotive firm in China, the Geely Group of Companies.
Once the transaction is complete, the facility will be renamed as the Utah Motorsports Campus.
The deal follows an intense review of several proposals submitted over the past few months, Tooele County commissioner Shawn Milne said.
“It represents a 'doubling down' on the commitment in our community, the facility itself and make this a keystone to American racing,” Milne said.
The agreement includes investment in the property of nearly $270 million over the next decade, he noted.
Additionally, the company has pledged to invest roughly $1 billion over the next 25 years as it expands and develops training, education and tourism elements to the facility.
Jobs were a very big element for the commission in considering the proposal, Milne said. The process was about a mixture of what the county government gets in an upfront cash price as well as the economic impacts to the community and the local employee base, he added.
For its part, Mitime has pledged to create a world-class facility that will not only expand racing in the U.S., but also in the burgeoning Chinese market where motor sports are still in their infancy.
The facility will cease operations as Miller Motorsports Park on Oct. 31 and reopen under its new banner as early as Jan. 1, 2016.
The newly rebranded Utah Motorsports Campus will be run by Alan Wilson, who designed the track and was among the people who worked with Larry H. Miller to get the project up and running when it was first conceived.
“I think (Miller) would be thrilled and be 100 percent with us on this decision,” Wilson said. “We’re giving a future to his legacy.”
Miller Motorsports Park opened in 2006 and was touted as being one of the finest racing facilities in the world. It was also a huge financial drain on the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, losing millions of dollars over the years.
At the time of its opening, the facility featured North America's longest road-racing track for motorcycles and all cars, except Formula 1 race cars. The park also had a 4.5-mile course divided into western and eastern tracks of about equal lengths, along with a 0.89-mile track for go-karts.
The track hosted numerous high-profile events over the past nine years, including the American Le Mans series, a NASCAR race (Grand National West Series), the FIM Superbike World Championship and the AMA Superbike Championship. But in May, the Miller Group announced it had decided not to renew its lease on the land in Tooele County.
“On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all of those who have supported the track over the years, both locally and worldwide, for their enthusiasm and use of the facility," owner Gail Miller said in a statement.
While the decision may have seemed somewhat sudden, a Miller Group spokeswoman said it had been a long time in the making.
“We were facing a land lease renewal deadline and made the decision to transfer the land, track and buildings to Tooele County,” said Linda Luchetti, executive vice president of communications for the Miller Group. “We made a significant investment in the facility over the years and tried a variety of business approaches. We had some of the best talent in the motor sports industry working to make the park viable.”
Despite those efforts, Luchetti said, the property was never able to reach profitability.
“This decision helps us to position ourselves for long-term success, which is in line with other recent changes in our management structure,” she said. “As a multi-faceted company, our focus continues to be on the core businesses where we excel.”
A finalized agreement with Mitime is expected to be completed by the end of this year so operations can seamlessly proceed in 2016, Milne said.
“What we expect is that by Jan. 1 we’ll have new ownership and a more developed plan (for the future) at that time,” he said.
While some skeptics voiced some questions about the selection of a Chinese company as the new owner of the track, Milne said, those worries are misplaced and he is confident the deal will help bolster larger efforts to participate more fully in the global economy.
“I have no concerns about our ability to help facilitate the state’s goals of increasing exports and to participate in international business,” he said.