June 22, 2014
CMS Partner and Executive Director Azhar Mohammad was a special guest on The Raceline Radio Network across Canada this week, providing fans with the latest update on the $ 400 Million Dollar project that got underway last fall. For those who missed the Raceline interview live, here is a full transcript. Raceline Radio Network anchor Erik Tomas in conversation with Azhar Mohammad:
ET: It’s been a while since we’ve had an update, so I wanted to come in and talk with you today about where we are and what’s happening. Fans want to know why we’re not seeing equipment back on site in Fort Erie.
AM: This is an investment, and an investment always requires de-risking various elements of the development. You mentioned the Ontario Provincial election earlier. Certainly that is a huge part in terms of dealing with government. When you have an election, government stops. And so the conversations about discussions on infrastructure, all of these things get deferred and we can’t really predict when a new government will come in and who is there to talk to. So that’s created a bit of a slow down or holding pattern.
But I can assure CMS fans activities certainly are continuing in the back ground. Unfortunately, these are not public activities. They relate to approvals and activities being scheduled and programmed for building and permitting. It’s not as cut and dry as just filling out an application and you get your permit.
With our particular project, we have about 20 different stake holders from not only the Provincial government, but we’re also looking at Municipalities, Regional and Federal governments. And so there’s a lot to discuss with all of these people, and they have their own internal processes.
So we’re doing what we can, under risk. Like when do things like the start of the relocation of Miller Creek, that’s not inexpensive. There was significant cost to the project. But we went ahead with it, knowing we will eventually get to the stage where we will get our construction permits in place and the government is on board in terms of infrastructure.
I would like to talk a little bit about infrastructure…
AM: One of the things Canadian Motor Speedway requires in order to be successful, is to be able to manage the mass of people coming in. The 65 thousand seats, the 65 thousand fans who come with their families …
ET: Access and egress….
AM: Exactly! These are the kinds of things that have to be part of the overall design. The Queen Elizabeth Highway and the off-ramps coming into our site are directly involved with managing these people.
But these are not assets owned by Canadian Motor Speedway. They are owned by the Province and the Municipalities. So CMS is very happy in the sense that the project is able to leverage this kind of support from the government for itself as a Province, and for The Town of Fort Erie.
So there’s a lot more involved in this. It’s not just us. We have to make sure the Municipalities are on side, and the Province is willing to support this kind of development…
ET: All the pieces have to fit together in other words…
AM: Exactly! In order to do that, it sometimes takes years of negotiation. Then there are other issues like acquiring more land. We’re always on the lookout for more land. At the same time, we are still dealing with things like archeology on site that needs to be cleared. These are things that depend on weather, timing and availability of the various engineers and specialists during the year because we’re not the only deal in town! There are other projects going on.
Having said all of this, it’s a combination of all of these points that define time and the speed of the project. So we are just trying to do the best we can with what we’re given.
But as I said previous, our architect has already started working on some really cool ideas and designs. Jeff Gordon is very excited as he creates a design book with a lot of the ideas he’s compiled over his career. We continue to mobilize our educational component and the research and development related to motorsport…
ET: You just signed a memorandum of understanding with Niagara College…
AM: Absolutely! And so it continues. We are spending dollars every day. The public may not necessarily see this because for them, equipment and trucks and dirt moving means progress. There certainly has been dirt moving, absolutely. More than anyone else, CMS wants to see that level of activity happening, because it means our investment dollars are now starting to turn towards some kind of horizon.
So I would say that’s the best update we can give as we continue actively working with institutions like the Ministry of Transport and Tourism that provides further clarity in terms of what our schedule will look like for this year.
ET: Azhar, it’s tough to put a time-line on this. Once things settle down after the election and we know who the government is in The Province, and you go back and re-visit all of that stuff and get that infrastructure support from The Province that you need for this thing to go ahead, in your best guess-timation, is there a chance we’ll see activity on site this summer?
AM: Well I think if we follow our best case scenario, we could see some pre-grading work before the winter. That’s our hope, because that will trigger the start of construction in 2015. But having said that, again, with summer in play, the availability of various bureaucracies and so on to turn around their process remains to be seen whether we achieve that target or not. It’s a waiting game.
ET: That’s the number one question I get from fans and some media…
AM: And we appreciate the fan’s sentiment! We love all their input that’s coming in, because it’s really helping us consider a lot of design issues that we’d like to implement, you know, what fans expect.
But at the same time, again, we want to be successful in terms of developing a world class facility.
It has to make money…
ET: It’s not a hobby….
AM: No! It’s not a hobby! And everybody that does go out to these tracks can see themselves if there’s no sponsorship that’s optimized at the facility. If there’s nothing else providing a value-add for fans and for their families to attend, then it’s not worth them going to these facilities. And we need to make sure that Canadian Motor Speedway has that in place so that when somebody does come with their family and they travel that long distance, they’re getting bang for their buck. This is paramount for us!
ET: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… if this was easy, everybody would be doin’ it….
AM: And that’s why you don’t see a lot of tracks of this size and stature being built every year. These things are one-off. This happens to be the first one of its kind in this country and that has its challenges! But we’re committed and we have met those challenges. The few that remain ahead of us, we’re dealing with those.
I’ll just leave you with a little example. When we talk about new highway interchanges and that type of off-site infrastructure, one of the designs that’s come from The Ministry of Transport relates to an interchange that’s going to cut right through a large component of one of the most valuable pieces of our property.
ET: Who saw that comin’…?
AM: So then as investor, we have to say, well, do we have a choice? So we have to bite the bullet in those cases, and those kinds of things can cause significant dollar changes in our expectations on revenues. So these are the kinds of business decisions, lots of balls in the air, we have to make.
So far we have taken that sacrifice everywhere we’ve need to, in order for the CMS project to move forward.
We are looking forward to getting some activities done this summer. But having said that, all of the other pieces need to fall into place.
ET: Great job bringing everyone up to date on CMS Azhar. I thought it was important to do this. Still one thousand percent behind you as you know. As soon as something happens that moves some of this stuff forward, let us know.
AM: Thanks very much Erik! Again, big thanks to Raceline Radio and all the fans. Certainly we will update you as soon as we have some big developments ready to be announced.
We are looking forward to a successful summer!