Sault Ste. Marie Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Linda Hoath was the first to speak on the $2 million U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant awarded to turn the International 500 Raceway track into a venue for year-round use.
“I just found out when someone told me Soo Leader had it up online,” said Hoath minutes after the press release was issued.
She could not wait to share the news with her father, Frank Talentino.
International 500 Board of Directors Chairman Ric Federau said the track's history stems back 55 years: “You had six guys sitting in a restaurant when they saw a pace car for the Indianapolis I-500.”
The muscle car wore the official markings of its professional racing circuit, but the conversation soon changed from asphalt to ice after one single question: “Could a snowmobile run 500 miles?”
That question has since been answered 53 times over. The track is currently 20 weeks and four days away from its 54th I-500 Snowmobile Race, bringing the world's most prestigious endurance snowmobile racers to the Sault for one week of racing.
It was 1968 when Talentino and his friends first dug into the visionary I-500 soil with just $5,000 from three different banks. Community support gained traction over the years to build the track into everything it is today.
But Talentino’s daughter grew to envision even more, questioning why the track sits unoccupied the remaining 51 weeks of the year.
“It's just an area that is not utilized, and it can be used for so many things,” Hoath said about hiring Justin Knepper of Knepper Development Strategies to apply for the EDA grant last year.
Hoath brought in an archaeologist and engineer to ensure plans could be implemented. Fingers were crossed from there.
“It's so important to Sault Ste. Marie that we get some infrastructure done in that piece of property," she said. "Without that, we cannot use it in the summertime.”
Hoath plans to start by hiring contractors to reconstruct 4th Avenue.
“Infrastructure is really important,” said Hoath. “That road needs to be done and fixed up.”
From there, focus will be on constructing a gravel parking lot, pedestrian truss bridge, bluff terracing, pedestrian trail connectors, and track fencing. Electrical upgrades will be made as well. That is not all...
“We're putting up a new building,” Hoath said. “I look at it as a vendor building, but I want to see some of the historical things that have happened at the track there. We can put vendors and different things in there.”
Hoath said she would like to see everything from motocross to concerts take place year-round, so that the snowmobile industry’s only one mile high-banked oval ice track in the world has a multipurpose use.
“The city of Sault Ste. Marie owns the property, and because it's their property, they signed on to it too," said Hoath. "We've all come together.”
While Sault Ste. Marie Convention & Visitors Bureau will not be required to match the $2 million, they will have to throw in 20 percent, or just over $400,000.
“I'll be out there looking for it,” Hoath said. “I've already made phone calls. I've been working hard on it already. Right after I found out yesterday, I was making phone calls.”
Hoath hopes to break ground next year to finish things up as early as 2024.
She could not wait to tell her father.
"This is my legacy," Hoath said in closing.
“This $2 million investment in the Sault will create or retain 50 good-paying jobs and help us continue to grow our Pure Michigan economy,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stated in the "Sault receives $2 million to boost local tourism" press release.