Napa County and the City of Calistoga have been working on another extension of due diligence in the sale of the Napa County Fairgrounds to the city, as it tries to resolve an issue regarding equipment installed at the Speedway by a private third party, racing supporter David Abreu.
The deadline expired on Tuesday, and as of press time Wednesday, the two entities were working to extend the period.
In November, as the City of Calistoga was preparing financial arrangements for the purchase of the fairgrounds from the county, city officials balked at the discovery of a dispute between the county and Abreu over an estimated $1.4 million in upgrades he made to the Speedway with his own money in 2017. Though he is said to never have signed any kind of agreement with the county over the improvements, Abreu is claiming it is personal property, which was never donated to the county.
The city said at the time the issue could be “a deal breaker.” While the city is also delving into environmental issues with the condition of the fairgrounds during due dilligence, the Speedway “hiccup” is “the primary driver” for the delay, said Calistoga City Manager Mike Kirn.
In August, 2019, the city reached an agreement with the county to purchase 34.3 acres of the fairgrounds property for $7.2 million, after more than two years of negotiations. The city initially had until Dec. 18 to complete its due diligence and another 60 days after that to close on the property. After finding out about the Speedway issue, the city in November asked for an extension of the due diligence period while the county resolves the issue.
According to Jeff Brax, Napa County counsel, Abreu sent a letter dated Oct. 9 to the City of Calistoga saying certain property at the Speedway belongs to him.
Bonnie Chisholm, who was on the Fair Board Association at the time Abreu made the improvements to the Speedway said, “At no time was he under contract with the fair board to do these changes.” She also sent this information to county supervisors, encouraging them to expedite the sale.
Abreu is an avid racing supporter, and his son, Rico, is a professional dirt track and stock car racing driver. David Abreu is a third-generation Napa Valley rancher who founded Abreu Vineyards in St. Helena in 1980. Abreu did not respond to phone and email messages as of press time.
On Monday, Brax said the Speedway issue “is either potential or pending litigation with Mr. Abreu. He has a claim to certain property on the fairgrounds,” adding the county can’t comment further. “The county is actively working with the City of Calistoga on the larger issue in hopes to get a resolution soon on the sale. The Abreu issue will either be resolved before that or after that, depending. We hope that doesn’t prove a deal breaker.”
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As the sale continues to drag on, on Thursday, the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, which normally takes place in April at the Speedway at the fairgrounds, was cancelled and relocated to the Merced Speedway “due to local governance matters,” according to a press release.
Racing dates are planned out in December for the following year, and at this time HMC Promotions will have a hard time getting good dates for 2020, Chisholm said.
The loss of the rental fee for the cancelled Outlaw race is about $20,000, not including rentals at the RV park, and business at local outlets, said Tommy Hunt, of HMC Promotions, who promotes races at the Speedway.
“All those businesses, the market (Cal Mart), Ace Hardware, people profit from (race goers) that use their facilities,” he said.
As for the delay in the sale, Hunt said, “It’s fairly cut and dried. (Abreu) installed the equipment on the property (without any permission). He has nothing to do with the Speedway at all, period. Unfortunately, it makes things very complicated. On the other hand, I’ve got a good, positive attitude, and I think that things are going to move forward, at some point, quickly.”
Hunt said he had a very good experience with the county promoting races. “We’re happy with what’s happened in the past.”
Hunt leases the Speedway to World of Outlaws promoter Chris Morgan. They are still planning on the September race, after the Vermeil Classic, which Hunt also promotes.
Another race is also planned for June 13 or 20. “I think we’re going to be OK on lead time on that,” he said.