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Mobile County site picked for $600 million Earnhardt project

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) A $600 million Dale Earnhardt race track and entertainment complex will be built on 2,500 acres in the Prichard-Saraland area just north of Mobile, the track's investors announced Friday after ruling out two sites in south Baldwin County.

It could take about two years to build the four-track motorsports park off Alabama 158, near Interstate 65, with a full season of activity expected in 2010, track spokesman Bill Futterer of Raleigh, N.C., said. The chosen site faces the University of Mobile campus.

A 5,000-space RV park, a theme park and a 7,000-seat arena also are planned, along with hotels, retail, restaurants and music theaters. The site, while near the busy north-south I-65, also would benefit from its proximity to the east-west Interstate 10 on Mobile's southern edge.

Investors in the track include NASCAR Nextel Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.; his brother, Kerry Earnhardt, a driver in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series; and sister Kelley Earnhardt Elledge.

It is the Earnhardt siblings' first professional collaboration. The 20 investor partners are operating as Gulf Coast Entertainment LLC.

The Earnhardts will help design the seven-tenths-mile, lighted oval track in the complex. There also will be a three-eighths-mile dirt track; a 3-mile road course; and a quarter-mile drag strip.

Mobile County Commissioner Steve Nodine said that while no monetary commitment by the county has been made to the investors, the county will offer infrastructure improvements.

A project of this size would be a windfall for Prichard, which has a population of about 28,000 and is one of Alabama's poorest cities. Prichard Mayor Ron Davis said it's an ``exciting day'' for Prichard and he pledged to ``focus on the partnership'' to make the complex a success. Construction on the complex could generate 5,000 jobs.

Baldwin County sites in Loxley and Summerdale were considered. While Summerdale courted the track investors, Loxley was less than enthusiastic about the proposal because residents voiced concerns about racing noise and traffic.

``Most people I talked to were not in favor of it,'' said Loxley Mayor Billy Middleton.

Summerdale Mayor David Wilson said the cost of the land knocked his city out of the competition. He said property near the toll highway to Alabama beaches was considered.

Wilson said two of the investors already owned some of the Mobile County property needed for the project.

``We were humbled to have been considered,'' a disappointed Wilson said.
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