International Speedway Corp. announced approval Tuesday for its "Daytona Rising" redevelopment project, originally announced back in January. The project, which will include significant upgrades to grandstands and other spectator amenities, is expected to cost between $375 million and $400 million and ISC had attempted to form a public/private partnership with the state of Florida to finance it, but the Florida legislature declined to bring the bill proposing the move to a vote before closing its session. ISC will therefore finance the construction privately.
"I'd like to really thank the France family for their leadership, like to thank the ISC board of directors – this commitment to invest in Daytona Beach is significant and really proud that we get to be part of it," said DIS President Joie Chitwood III at the announcement (ABOVE). "When we talk about what this meaning to our fans, it's about amenities, opportunities to enjoy the event from a different perspective, seat comfort, vertical transportation, social areas, technology, innovation. It's really the key to our future in terms of the next 50 years of providing great experiences at our venue."
Chitwood expressed disappointment in the Florida legislature's action, which forced a less grandiose midway area than originally planned, and indicated he hoped there was still the possibility that a partnership was possible.
"We had to do is look at our scope, and one of the things that we took out of that was the major overhaul of the midway area," he explained. "I am proud to say we've been able to maintain all of the amenities that we wanted to add in the grandstand structure in terms of the entrance statements, the vertical transportation, seat comfort, the additional points of sale, restrooms, all of those elements. But the significant thing that we had to reduce was the outside area, which was the midway. I hope to keep that on the agenda for the future.
"I will continue to work with our friends in Tallahassee. I do believe that we should be treated more fairly like the other sports properties in terms of sales tax rebate, and so I will continue to visit Tallahassee frequently to make sure all of our friends up there know how special Daytona is and that this company is making a huge investment in its hometown, which is going to benefit not just Volusia County, it's going to benefit Central Florida, it's going to benefit Florida, and those are the kinds of companies that I think our friends in Tallahassee should take the time to visit with."
The redevelopment is intended to put Daytona on a par with the latest NFL stadiums, incorporating wide concourses, themed restaurants escalators and other amenities. Total seat capacity will be reduced by 46,000 seats to 101,000, after unpopular backstretch stands are removed and wider seats are positioned on the frontstretch.
"One of the things about the backstretch, you feel disconnected from the venue in terms of the pre-race experiences, the other events that we have, and in terms of the amenities that we offer – the ability to get to the midway area, the displays, the merchandise," Chitwood explained. "So that was one of the factors as we went through this, was listening to the fans about what it's like back there and making sure, again, if you're a fan and you plan and make a huge investment to come to Daytona, we want to make sure that you get everything, and we can do that by getting you on the frontstretch, and that's really why we're going to remove the 'superstretch,' because we can't offer all of those things back there that we do on the front."
Chitwood said the reduction in overall seats won't affect ticket prices.
"We've got to readjust our pricing mix so that we have affordable seats on the frontstretch, and we're committed to doing that. We're committed to making sure that our fans can continue to bring in coolers, all of their own food and drink, and committed to continuing our free parking in our Lots 7 and 10. ust because we're going to make this huge investment in our property, we're not going to transfer that downstream to our fans. We think there's going to be some new opportunities for us as it relates to sponsorship, hospitality and the other amenities that we offer, but we're not going to turn around and leverage our ticket prices."
Chitwood added that he didn't anticipate any need to reschedule events during the construction period.
"2015 will be a significant year in which we go back in and really work on the current seats that we have. '14 will be focused on the new structure that will be built behind and above what we currently have, and so right now my visibility is only for '14 in the fact that we won't change the seating mix or count, meaning the superstretch and the frontstretch will be the same, and there might be some challenge in terms of getting our fans through the property to their seats, but we don't anticipate any changes to the events. '15 is a little bit far away right now to have good visibility, but we're working on that right now to try and make sure that we've got that under our belt, and obviously if we're going to do anything different with what we do, we'll let everybody know."