Tooele County reaches settlement agreement over Miller Motorsports Park lawsuit

The county agreed to pay Center Point $1.55 million.

Photo by Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Cars enter turn one at the start of the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix, American Le Mans Series at Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, Sunday, July 11, 2010.

Tooele County has taken a large step toward selling Miller Motorsports Park after agreeing to a $1.55 million settlement, which would end a 15-month legal battle.

The sale has been in limbo since one bidder, Center Point Management, sued the county for accepting a lower bid. Rather than go with Center Point’s $22.5 million, Tooele County accepted a $20 million offer from the China-based Mitime Investment Group.

In December 2016, 3rd District Judge Robert Adkins agreed with Center Point Management and blocked the sale.

Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne confirmed the settlement on Friday morning, saying it was in the best interest of taxpayers.

The county inherited the track in 2015, when the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies did not renew its lease on the 511-acre site in the Tooele Valley.

While the legal battle continued, the county signed a deal with Utah Motorsports Campus Inc., a subsidiary of Mitime, to operate the facility for a year. The deal did not mean Mitime would be picked for an eventual sale.

Milne said he believes Center Point’s goal all along was to drag out a legal battle until the county submitted to paying a settlement.

“OK, so we can tell you are after nuisance money, so what would be a bearable amount?” Milne said of his approach to negotiations.

Milne said the county had concerns about Center Point from the jump, including not knowing who its investors were and what Milne called a flawed redevelopment plan.

Center Point, a Wyoming-based real estate development company, planned to build condos and hotels around the track. Milne said the plan was to have units a literal stone’s throw from the track.

“At what point does the novelty wear off and folks complain about noise and traffic?” Milne said, adding that other similar ventures around the country have had poor occupancy rates.

While Mitime had a lower bid, Milne said, it provided a better longterm outlook for the track. The company is a subsidiary of Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, which has invested heavily in the racing industry, purchasing Volvo and Lotus, a British sportscar company.

“You don’t always have to take the highest bid,” Milne said. “That intrinsic value of what sort of environment they would bring, that is just as important as the money up front.”

Milne said he is hoping for the settlement to go through but it’s not a guarantee, and if it falls apart the county is ready to go to trial, where he said it would prevail.

Under the settlement agreement, Center Point would get half the money if it is successful in obtaining a permanent dismissal of the lawsuit. The other half would come on the completion of a sale to another party, or on March 30, whichever comes first. A motion requesting the dismissal based on a proposed settlement was filed in court Wednesday.

Milne said sticking with the ongoing court battle would have been expensive and a settlement is the best way to getting the track improved, contributing to the economy and providing racers with a world-class venue.

During the past 15 months there were 307 entries of filings in the case, including several motions to move the case to another county and for summary judgment. Both parties had attorneys withdraw, Center Point’s claiming he was unable to get ahold of his clients and that they hadn’t paid him.

Center Point’s current attorney, Dallis Rohde, did not return a request for comment. Neither did Mark Bensen, an associate with Center Point and named defendant in the case.

Milne said the agreement allows the county to reopen negotiations for a sale on the track. Milne said the sports park has enticed racing families around the country to pick up and move to Tooele County.

Milne said he would be interested in renewing discussions with Mitime. Willem Geyer, who operates the track for Utah Motorsports Campus, said Mitime is interested.

Geyer said the purchase of the racetrack would fall in line with the investments Zhejiang Geely Holding Group has made in Volvo and Lotus.