If he builds it, will they come?

March 30, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Fan plans to convert Weyerhaeuser’s mill site into race track

Ultimate Rally LLC General Manager Greg Lund stands at Weyerhaeuser’s old mill site in Snoqualmie, where he and his business partners would like to build a rally car-driving course. Contributed

Rally car aficionado Greg Lund wants to put a little zoom in the Snoqualmie Valley. The Issaquah resident plans to buy Weyerhaeuser’s old mill site, located above Borst Lake in Snoqualmie, and build a rally car-driving course that would open this fall.

Not everyone, especially the neighbors, is happy with Lund’s idea, saying that it would be noisy and harm the environment.

But Lund’s plan, though still in its infancy, might someday rev to life.

Lund, 50, grew up in Issaquah and remembers rally car driving in the Snoqualmie Valley on the tree farm near the mill when he was in his 20s. Rally car driving — a sport in which drivers take their vehicles to challenging, nonpublic areas, like forestry roads — caught his interest.Though wildly popular in Europe, there are only two official rally car courses in the U.S., Lund said: one in New Hampshire and the other in Florida.

He stressed that his course would not be used as a racetrack, but rather a place where people would drive at speeds up to 40 mph on a difficult surface of loose gravel, wet pavement and more.

“It’s not racing,” Lund said. “You’re only on the course by yourself. It’s a real learning experience.”

He and three other men have formed Ultimate Rally and plan to target car lovers who enjoy driving off the beaten path, drivers who want formal training in off-road driving and businesses like Microsoft and Boeing looking for entertainment and team-building exercises.

The course could also attract car manufacturers that need a place where people can test new vehicles and serve as a location for television and movie productions, Lund said.

He estimates the business would have an annual revenue of $3 million and would help bring $2.5 million in tourism dollars per year to the valley.

“It’s the perfect location, because we’re going to try to do vacation packages,” Lund said. “You could stay at Salish (Lodge & Spa), go skiing, go golfing — maybe even take a cruise up to Alaska.”

After hearing about Lund’s plan, some Snoqualmie residents said they are wary of living near a rally car course.

Snoqualmie resident Sheri Bucy wondered how Ultimate Rally could be profitable during a recession. She said she worried that once started, the company would have to operate beyond its promised weekday-only hours and would start catering to weekend customers.

“I just see and hear a lot of noisy weekends in our future,” Bucy wrote in an e-mail, adding, “This valley is a giant bowl and we can hear everything.”

Mark Stadick, of Snoqualmie, remembered when the Weyerhaeuser mill was in service.

“I have enjoyed the peace since it shut down,” Stadick wrote in an e-mail.

He noted he often bicycles to the mill site and enjoys seeing artists painting Mount Si and people watching wildlife.

“Who needs greasy, oily cars around an area like that?” he asked. “Let it recover from the mill.”

Lund said he was aware of the concerns. He said cars on the course wouldn’t be any louder than modern street cars.

As for the environment, he said his company would try to minimize the course’s contact with wildlife. And, they are working with the Cascade Land Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, to calculate how many more trees they would need to plant to create a sound buffer and help offset the company’s carbon footprint, he said.

The company does not plan to operate the business on weekends, he added.

For people concerned with maintaining the site’s history, Lund said he would preserve Weyerhaeuser’s historic buildings — using them for the company’s offices and classrooms — and create a museum about Weyerhaeuser.

The land is currently part of unincorporated King County, but Lund said he hopes it will be incorporated into Snoqualmie, so the city would benefit from his business.

No public meetings are planned for the development, because the property is zoned industrial property, something which bothers Snoqualmie resident David Bach.

“Why are no permits required for a business with potentially dramatic impacts on nearby residents?” Bach asked in an e-mail.

In the meantime, Lund and his partners are working on the rally car business.

“There is no NASCAR,” Lund said. “We’re just a bunch of old guys who want to put on a school and make income for Snoqualmie and jobs as well.”

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 221, or lgeggel@snovalleystar.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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