APRIL 14, 2009

An F1 track in Ontario?

The Niagara Falls Review has been busy in recent days investigating a story about a $200m racing circuit development in the area. The idea makes sense. Niagara has been suffering in recent years with new US passport requirements, rising fuel costs, border delays, inclement weather and the weakening US economy all reducing the number of visitors. Niagara is looking at ways to increase its numbers. At the moment two-thirds of the visitors come from the US and 26% from Canada. This means that only around eight percent visit from overseas. Interestingly, their spending contributes 20% of the tourist revenues. This means that Niagara is keen to attract a more international audience, to see the famous waterfall and to enjoy the area. A casino and luxury hotel was opened by the Seneca Indian tribe and this has helped, while there are two casinos on the Canadian side.

Now Kuwaiti bank Bayt Al Mal has announced that it is to fund construction of a one-mile oval complete with a 2.5 mile road course at Fort Erie, on the Canadian side. The aim is to create a home for NASCAR in Canada, but there has already been speculation that the circuit could also become the home of the Canadian Grand Prix.

The plan is to build a facility that will have seating for 100,000.

Bayt Al Mal has already acquired 623 acres of land just a few miles from the US-Canadian border and Shams Faiz, the chief operating officer of Bayt Al Mal says that it is the perfect place for a race track.

"This is a strategic location giving us access to a motor-sport fan base of over 120 million people," he said.

The city of Fort Erie says that it has been working with the Bahrainis on the project for 18 months. The company says that it has carefully studied the region to find the right location and with hundreds of hotels within easy reach of the Falls, this is a perfect place to invest.

It has also been confirmed that NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon is involved with the project along with Paxton Waters Architecture, Derek Daly Design, and Philips Engineering.

The New York state governor was in the area a few days ago and has announced plans to upgrade the roads and bridges on the US side of the border in an effort to get more business to Niagara.

It seems that there are also two other proposals for racing circuits in the area. There is a second proposal for Lake Erie and a third nearer to the Falls, which would be funded by a group of Ontario investors who want to build a 3.5-mile road course that could be used for IRL. The locals say that this bid is looking to secure as many as eight "national and international racing events by 2014". The backers of the project are saying that the economic impact of the track would be in the region of $110m a year. The proposal includes a karting facility, an industrial park and a museum. This would be built on a 230-acre site on Sodom Road.

The Bayt Al Mal project seems to be the most advanced at the moment and would include retail shops, a hotel and space for research and development work. The aim is for the facility to be in operation 365 days a year.

It is not the first attempt to build a speedway in the area. In 2005 there was an attempt to build a NASCAR oval in Stevensville but that never happened. The oval project will require a zoning change and there may be environmental hurdles to be overcome but if all goes well construction could begin within a year.