Gearing up for growth

Opening of new I-71 interchange
to speed growth in Gallatin County

Ramada Inn already scheduled
to go up at Sparta’s Exit 57

By Don Ward

(June, 2002) SPARTA, Ky. – It won’t hold much traffic except for four race weekends this year and next year at the Kentucky Speedway, but the new I-71 Exit 55 interchange was officially opened May 8 in a brief, rain-threatened ceremony that included Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton and an unusual ribbon cutting by three-time ARCA RE/MAX champion driver Frank Kimmel.

Carrollton Edition Cover

Kimmel, of Jeffersonville, Ind., climbed into his No. 46 Ford Taurus and sped down the newly paved 1.5-mile highway, breaking a silver ribbon held by Patton and speedway co-owner Jerry Carroll. The $12.3 million interchange is the first segment of an eventual 4.5-mile connector road that will join I-71 with Hwy. 42 at the Markland Dam bridge into Indiana. A 1.7-mile section of Hwy. 35 south of the interstate, from Hwy. 467 to I-71, is being reconstructed and expected to be completed in August. That project began in April 2001 and will cost $3.3 million.
The $26 million connector road from I-71 to Hwy. 42 will be awarded in early January 2003 and scheduled to be completed in late 2004, according to Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secy. James Codell III. The new highway and interchange had been planned for some time but was not scheduled to be built for several more years. Gov. Patton admitted the project was moved up with the construction of the speedway to aid in moving traffic in and out of the parking areas on race day.
The new interchange is two miles southeast of the Sparta Exit 57 on I-71. The new highway will eventually be four lanes but only two will be paved at first, officials said. The road is expected to alleviate truck traffic from the steel and other plants located along Hwy. 42 that must now travel through downtown Carrollton or Warsaw to reach the interstate.
“The immediate need is to alleviate truck traffic, but the long-range goal is to improve overall transportation for Gallatin County,” Codell said. “It will also open up economic development opportunities for the area.”
Gallatin County Judge-Executive George Zubaty said he expected development activity to blossom along I-71 as the new road nears completion. “Things are going to explode around here,” he said, although he was not aware of any specific plans by companies to locate there.
Patton said he recalled planning the road project when he was lieutenant governor. His term expires in late 2003 and he cannot seek re-election because of term limits.
Rep. Paul Marcotte, Rep. Royce Adams and Boone County State Sen. Dick Roeding also attended the ceremony. Marcotte said he served on the original committee to get the project started.
Patton called it “a special occasion” because few new roads are being built in the state because of fiscal restraints. “This road will promote economic growth in the decades ahead,” he said.
Carroll called the governor and Codell “dream-makers,” adding that they “understand what we’re trying to do at the Kentucky Speedway” as part of the area’s economic development.
Snowden Armstrong, a Realtor with Grubb & Ellis West Shell Commercial Co., has 125 acres of undeveloped land listed along the new interchange road. He predicts the area will eventually build up, but added that it takes time.
“The Kentucky Speedway may develop into something more, but right now the races themselves have no staying power for hotels and restaurants to come in,” Armstrong said. “If they could get nine events to become 18 or 20, but that’s still not enough to keep hotels busy year-round. If they can get another entertainment complex of some type, it may become a destination.”
Regina Stewart of Century 21-Whitehorse Realty owns a farm along the new interchange and is working on a deal that could bring a new multi-million “entertainment venture” to the area. She could not reveal any more information because the sale was pending.
“That is a prime development location along the interstate, and we’ve had several calls on it,” she said. She already has sold 50 acres for a commercial development and is negotiating with several businesses to join in the deal.
Fred and Judy Berkshire, meanwhile, have turned 80 acres of their farm into a campground on the outskirts of the speedway property and, until the I-71 interchange opened, had poor road access to the public. Now that the interchange is open, the new road runs up the hill right past their farm and their Edge of Speedway campground.
“We are opening fulltime as a campground this year,” Judy said. “Before, nobody knew we were here.”
She says that if the speedway gets a Winston Cup race, she should have no problem filling her camp spots. Meanwhile, Tom Rapier RV is setting up a display of vehicles for public inspection during race weekends this summer and cooking out free food prior to each race.
“We didn’t have too many people here in May because it was a smaller race. But we expect a big crowd in June with the Busch race,’ Judy said.
On the east side of the track at the existing Exit 57, meanwhile, Neal O’Connor is making moves to protect his investment. O’Connor, who last year built a new B.P. Station on Hwy. 35 just across the road from the front gate of the track, recently sold 18 acres of adjacent land for the construction of a future Ramada Inn. O’Connor and the hotel developers Ray and Claire Patenaude, based in Sellersburg, Ind., are working on a sewer design to tap into the Regional Sewer District coming from Carrollton. Once complete, construction on the hotel could begin as early as this summer, with completion set for spring 2003.
The Petanaudes own several businesses, including a Ramada Inn in Sellersburg, two Dairy Queens and plan to open an Extended Stay hotel in Sellersburg in June. The Sparta hotel will be situated on top of the hill for visibility from both directions on I-71 and feature 79 rooms, including 22 suites.
They say they are not worried about the fact the nearby Kentucky Speedway only has racing four weekend a year. They are negotiating with Belterra Casino Resort to handle their overflow on weekends and say the Sparta location gives them the only branded hotel between Florence and Carrollton.
“We are familiar with interstate locations and we’re not building there just because of the speedway – that’s just icing on the cake. With Belterra nearby, we’re totally optimistic,” Claire said.
The couple is negotiating with several restaurant chains, including Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, with whom they have worked with in the past in Sellersburg and Corydon, Ind.
O’Connor, meanwhile, said he wanted to see his exit blossom before the new exit takes off. “I’m in a race against time, because it’s whichever exit booms first. I can’t see anyone investing a lot of money around the new interchange until that road goes all the way through – especially considering what people want for their land. So I’ve still got a little time.”
He figured that selling a piece of his land now would spur development around his new service station and convenience store. “I know it won’t happen overnight, but it might put me ahead of the other exit.”
As the speedway’s calendar grows, locals agree that more development is expected to follow. As Judge Zubaty says, “This area is just going to explode.”

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