Warehouse builder Portman Industrial is no longer the driving force behind plans for the now-shuttered Palm Beach International Raceway.
While the demise of the warehouse giant has race fans hoping the property could be snatched up by a racetrack operator, the owner of the nearly 60-year-old venue slammed the brakes on that option.
The 175-acre Beeline Highway site is back on the market for the top dollar that only a warehouse builder can offer, owner IRG Sports & Entertainment said, once again dashing hopes that the 2.2-mile track and quarter-mile drag strip could one day reopen.
“We want to be clear that the future of the property remains the same: it will be developed for logistics and distribution use, with a process underway to choose a new developer,” a spokesman for IRG emailed OnGardens.org. “The track is closed and will not be reopening.”
After suffering a devastating zoning defeat April 7, just two weeks before the final races at the former Moroso Motorsports Park, Portman has now withdrawn its permit applications from two key environmental regulators.
Portman signed a contract to buy the property in August 2021 that would not close until it won zoning approval.
A heavily redacted copy of that contract, submitted to one of the regulators, indicates why time ran out on the Atlanta-based industrial giant.
Amended contract called for approvals by May 31
The contract, filed with the South Florida Water Management District as part of its permit review, depended on Portman getting Palm Beach County Commission zoning approvals before the deed — and the money — would change hands.
Nearly two months before the April 28 zoning hearing, in which objections from racing fans persuaded the zoning board to reject variances Portman needed, Portman and IRG amended their initial contract to set a May 31 deadline for Portman to get the final OK from the county.
The contract gave Portman another 30 days after May 31 to close the deal, at IRG’s discretion. If Portman didn’t close, IRG had the right to terminate the contract.
But Portman had to go back to the drawing board to get zoning approval and told the county they wouldn’t be ready for another zoning board hearing until Sept. 22. And if it passed muster, the plan for 2.1 million square feet of warehouses still would need another month to get county commission approval.
That apparently didn’t appeal to IRG, which probably can get more money now than in August 2021, when Portman initially agreed to terms.
Sure enough, on June 27, a Portman representative withdrew its extensive permit application with the South Florida Water Management District. That same day, Portman withdrew its proposal from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
County officials had not received a withdrawal request as of June 29. Portman did not return requests for comment.
Racetrack bid crashed
While IRG anticipates continued interest from warehouse builders, it doesn’t anticipate a competitive bid from a suitor that publicly stated in August that it wanted to buy the track and retain it for racing.
That bidder, Formula Race Promotions, announced plans in May to build Atlantic Farms Motorsports Park in Martin County, but a promised June news conference to reveal the 900-acre site did not happen. The group, however, remains committed to its Martin County plan, spokesman Corey Saban said.
“We’re excited about the opportunity in Martin County. We’re not interested in the current facility,” Saban said. “Moroso had a rich history and there’s a need for racing and we look forward to fulfilling that need at Atlantic Farms.”
In its April news release, IRG pointed out that proposals to retain racing had been lapped. IRG, headed by former hockey executive Lou Partenza, has sold its other track interests and has owned the Palm Beach track for at least a decade.
“All serious proposals were for redeveloping the property within its existing industrial zoning use, but for purposes other than remaining a racetrack,” the April 24 statement said. “There were no competitive bids from any groups interested in keeping PBIR open.”
IRG also said, “PBIR has faced continued financial difficulties over multiple decades. Many factors, including escalating insurance costs, fewer corporate event bookings, and declining attendance, have contributed to long-term business underperformance and the conclusion that the property’s highest and best use is not as a racetrack.”
Value could top $100 million
Portman’s warehouse proposal, combined with the lack of available industrial land in South Florida to keep up with constant growth, suggested a price for the land that now could easily top $100 million, local real estate brokers say.
“The seller is literally in the driver’s seat,” north county commercial real estate broker Rebel Cook told OnGardens in April.
Warehouse builders have been building in Martin and St. Lucie counties, farther than they would like from the rich population base of South Florida. And the neighboring Palm Beach Park of Commerce is nearly full, with no more than 43 acres available for a single user, a Portman study submitted to regulators states.
“There are a lot of people looking for industrial land,” longtime land use lawyer Marty Perry said. Palm Beach County “hasn’t paid a lot of attention to keeping up with industrial zoning for growth.”
Post-publication correction: The county zoning commission denied Portman’s request on April 7, 2022, not April 28. The final races at PBIR were April 23.
© 2022 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.