Sonoma Raceway continues to push forward, seeking permission to hold a four-day rock festival, likened to San Francisco’s popular Outside Lands festival and BottleRock in Napa.
The Carneros wine region track, one of the largest in the state, recently completed its application, requesting the county make changes to its use permit to allow it to become an entertainment venue and hold non-racing events. The goal is to hold the first music festival in 2017, said Steve Page, the racetrack’s president and general manager. It could draw up to 55,000 people daily.
“We’d be talking about three stages ... (and) lots and lots of acts,” Page said, adding they would bring in various major, national headliners to appeal to fans of all ages.
Before it can go before county supervisors for approval, though, the proposal must undergo an environmental review to determine the impacts it will have on the Sonoma Valley. The process could take up to two years, said Misti Harris, a planner with the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department, which is working on hiring a firm to handle the review. The raceway must cover the cost.
“I want to ensure the full impacts have been identified and evaluated,” Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said about the project.
The 1,600-acre raceway also is seeking permission to hold smaller private events, such as corporate parties and fundraisers. Page said organizations have approached them in the past about renting the venue but conditions put in place by the county 15 years ago limit them to only holding motorsport-related events.
“There is a business opportunity for us,” Page said. “There aren’t a lot of places where you can put a party for more than 200 people in this part of the county.”
Still, Sonoma Raceway’s “bread and butter” will remain motorsports, said Diana Brennan, vice president of media and community relations. The track is one of eight tracks nationwide owned by North Carolina-based Speedway Motorsports, Inc.
“We’re a motorsports facility. That’s the bulk and foundation of what we’ll always do,” she said. “We have plenty of demand to fill ourselves up 340 days of the year as we do now.”
The track wants an additional five days of camping on lots off Lakeville Highway to accommodate festival-goers. It also wants permission to install lights at the go-kart racing track and extend its hours until 10 p.m.
The proposal will go before the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission for discussion at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 25. The public is encouraged to attend and provide input at the meeting, which will be held in the Community Room, 177 First St. W., Sonoma.
Residents already are raising concerns about the changes to the track, which lost a contract that brought in $4 million a year when Infineon Technologies didn’t renew its 10-year naming rights deal.
Gorin said people are worried about the noise and traffic the changes could bring to Highway 121.
“It’s a major traffic artery in and out of the Sonoma Valley. During race days, people use other traffic routes,” she said.
With more than a half-dozen large wineries in the area, it’s already wrestling with too many activities and traffic, said Kathy Pons, the president of the Valley of the Moon Alliance. The racetrack events could push it over the top, she said.