A proposed $1.6 million soap box derby park was shelved March 27 by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, which is questioning whether the facility would get widespread use.
“People are not ringing my phone for a soap box derby,” said Commissioner Elaine Boyer. “I do have my phone ringing off the hook for soccer [and] football. Those are the things that my constituents want.
“This is not where I want to spend $1 million of our money, especially when I heard today that we have problems with our animal shelter,” Boyer said. “What is the best priority use of money? It is not for a soapbox derby [park]. That is not what the people are crying for out in the community–any of the communities.”
Plans call for the 890-foot, two-lane derby track to be constructed at 1253 Rock Chapel Road adjacent to the Bransby YMCA on 10.9 acres. The land was purchased last year with funds from a parks bond approved by taxpayers in 2001.
The derby park would have a multi-use building for supplies and cars, a classroom, concession stand, a finish-line pavilion and a grandstand.
Although DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis’ administration in January recommended awarding a contract for the project to Astra Group Inc., of Woodstock, some commissioners asked for a business plan for the track.
According to the business plan, a permanent track would “expand the racing season and provide families many hours of working together to build the cars and a place to test them in a safe, controlled environment.
“These races are usually held in school and church parking lots or on a closed street,” said Roy Wilson, director of the county’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, a week before the board voted put the plan on hold for more information. “So to have a dedicated track is going to be great for us here in DeKalb County.”
The soap box derby facility, which would be the first permanent one in Georgia, has the endorsement of the Marietta Soap Box Derby, Dunwoody/Northeast Georgia Soap Box Derby Association and the Sports DeKalb arm of the DeKalb Convention & Visitors Bureau.
James Tsismanakis, executive director of the DeKalb Convention & Visitors Bureau, said in a letter of support that the soap box derby park would be a “great addition” that would solidify the county as a family destination and bring in more tourism revenue.
Tsismanakis said his organization would promote the derby in marketing materials, conventions and trade shows throughout the Southeast.
“The benefit to the community is obviously additional opportunities for youth, learning experiences, partnerships with schools and clubs and the economic benefit” from hosted tournaments,” said Ted Rhinehart, the county’s deputy chief operating officer for the infrastructure group of departments.
The projected annual revenue for the venue is $55,000 while the projected annual expenses were $40,000.
At that rate, Commissioner Lee May said, it would take 106 years to recover the $1.6 million price tag of the facility, according to the current plan by the county’s administration.
Even if the facility does not recover its costs, May said the derby park’s plan should include a way to give DeKalb residents more than the eight planned events per year.
“The financials are the most important thing,” May said. “The issue with this is not the concept. The concept is unique.”
Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton said the park should be affordable, attractive and organized “for the average kid to be able to use and not just people who are competing from all over the county.”
“If we’re going to make this kind of investment, it should be for our own people,” Sutton said. “I’m open in investing in our youth, but I’d like to make sure that they are actually going to use it.”
The soap box derby park plan is expected to be on the board’s agenda on May 15.