Last week, Augusta Commissioner Ben Hasan told his colleagues that at least two potential business partners are hoping to possibly develop a racetrack in south Augusta.
Do commissioners not remember the complete disaster this idea was almost a decade ago?
More than 10 years ago, Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams, along with Leo Charette, owner of Leo’s Produce, were heavily involved in the long-debated $5.4 million proposal to build a dragway on city-owned land along Mike Padgett Highway.
Of course, in 2010, Charette was arrested after Richmond County investigators discovered stolen goods, including golf carts and four wheelers, in his warehouse on Fifth Street in downtown Augusta.
But, sadly, that wasn’t the biggest controversy surrounding the racetrack.
For years, Williams pushed the idea of the city building a first-class racetrack on 250 acres of the city’s 1,700-acre Augusta Corporate Park in south Richmond County.
Initially, William’s suggestion was considered more of a joke than a possibility.
Serving then as the mayor pro tem, Williams was accused of using his personal love of drag racing to drive the idea.
But when a representative from the International Hot Rod Association pledged to commissioners that his group would bring at least one national racing event a year to the Augusta Dragway if it is constructed, a few local residents began taking the suggestion more seriously.
One such resident was Leo Charette.
A few weeks after the IHRA’s presentation, the commission was presented with a 20-page Augusta Dragway feasibility study the group had put together after spending three days in town and talking with members of the Augusta Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The study indicated that the track would generate about $30 million a year, and the city would get $2 out of every ticket sold.
This is where Charette entered the picture.
Williams, along with then-Augusta Commissioner Andy Cheek, teamed up with Charette, a local racing enthusiast, to conduct a sound test of the level noise of the cars for the concerned neighbors in south Augusta. The test suggested that the noise impact of the drag strip would be minimal.
But then-Augusta Commissioner Jimmy Smith said he would fight the proposed drag strip “tooth and toenail.”
As the owner of Leo’s Produce, Charette said he would commit $1 million of his own money (well, someone’s money) to fund the drag strip development.
Of course, things started to blow up in Williams’ face when it was discovered that his son-in-law Mark Pugh was attempting to purchase property near the proposed site for the race track weeks before it was announced that the site was being considered for the project.
The Augusta Chronicle reported that on Aug. 16, 2005, Pugh signed a sales contract to buy about a half-acre directly across the highway from the corporate park entrance.
About three months earlier, on May 31, 2005, Pugh signed documents incorporating a limited liability company called Drag Snacks.
Even though Pugh insisted that his father-in-law, Williams, did not tip him off about the project, very few people in Augusta actually believed that and eventually the idea of the project returned to being a joke in Richmond County.
So, what is the point of rehashing this idea again?
Can’t we just all agree that this is pretty much dead in the water?
Let’s move on.