Smith Pledges $50 Million to Jumpstart Monorail Project
Pledging $50 million of personal funds to jumpstart the project, Smith's concept utilizes the elevated monorail-style transport along current state-owned roads and right-of-ways to connect the proposed NASCAR Hall of Fame to University City, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Concord Mills. The monorail system would run from the NASCAR Hall of Fame up North Tryon Street through UNC-Charlotte and University City along U.S. Highway 29 to the speedway and across Speedway Blvd. to Concord Mills.
Smith believes this concept could be implemented in a more timely fashion than the proposed Northeast Corridor Light Rail Project, which is not scheduled for completion until 2017-2018 and ends at Interstate 485. Smith says that is too long to wait and it needs to include the speedway and Concord Mills areas. He also feels by elevating the system, it will be more efficient.
"The future can be now," Smith said. "With the NASCAR Hall of Fame proposal due at the end of the month, how powerful of a message could we send by including this concept? There is nothing else like it in any other city and we can do it here.
"This month, we are hosting more than 400,000 race fans from 50 states and 12 foreign countries. With this system in place, race fans could ride the monorail from the speedway down to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, visit Food Lion Speed Street and return without turning a wheel."
While NASCAR race events annually produce an estimated $400 million economic impact on the region, Smith's concept is also driven by the phenomenal growth and business development in the area.
"We are seeing incredible growth in the University City and southwest Cabarrus County areas," Smith said. "I predict within the next 10 years UNC-Charlotte will be the largest in the North Carolina University system.
"Concord Mills is among the top tourist attractions in North Carolina. The new Concord Convention Center is coming soon; we have the NASCAR industry here and The Preserve at Greyson is bringing 2,000 homes, two golf courses and sports entertainment facilities near the speedway," Smith added. "This will also be instrumental in the revitalization of North Tryon Street up to the University City area."
According to studies, the line has potential for strong ridership, connecting Center City's 55,000 workers to University City's 40,000 employees, 25,000 students and the rapidly developing southwest Cabarrus County area. In addition, more than 20 million people a year visit the Charlotte-Concord Gateway area because of conventions uptown, major events at the speedway and shopping at Concord Mills.
Smith, who hired Charlotte-based GA Design to illustrate the concept, says more details and engineering studies have to be finalized before estimating the cost.
Regarded by many in the industry as NASCAR's most innovative speedway operator, Smith continues to be driven by improving his facilities and amenities for fans.
"After winning the NEXTEL All-Star race Saturday night, Mark Martin called Charlotte Motor Speedway the 'greatest speedway in the world'," Smith said. "We want to continue to do things so all the drivers and fans share the same opinion of the speedway and this region. This is the epicenter of the sport and we must continue to develop and cultivate it."