Merced racetrack plan dead, CEO tells investors

MERCED — The CEO of Riverside Motorsports Park finally has admitted that his failed company no longer plans to build a massive racetrack complex in Merced County.

In a July 15 letter to RMP's investors, Chief Executive Officer John Condren said the company has "ceased operations."

The letter, obtained by the Sun-Star this week, confirms that RMP is broke. It states that the 1,200-acre property where RMP planned to build is the company's sole asset. That land is in foreclosure and RMP owes more money on the property than it's worth, the letter says.

RMP still has not paid roughly $400,000 in outstanding debts to Merced County. The company has owed the money, most of it for legal and planning fees related to RMP's development application, for nearly a year.

Though county officials said this week that they have not given up their efforts to collect the money, it appears likely that taxpayers will end up footing some of RMP's bills.

"We are pursuing all legal means available to ensure that everything owed to Merced County taxpayers is repaid," county spokeswoman Katie Albertson said.

Condren, 57, who lives in Morgan Hill, first proposed plans in 2003 for what he billed as the world's largest motorsports facility. The project's original blueprints called for a quarter-billion-dollar, eight-racetrack motorsports park to be built on 1,200 acres of farmland near Atwater.

Condren's plan set off an emotional debate about the county's future.

He claimed it would remake Merced's struggling economy, and many agreed with him. Others, including farmers and environmentalists, pleaded with the Board of Supervisors during all-night public hearings to turn down Condren's proposal.

Supervisors ultimately approved the project in 2006.

Though it never broke ground, Condren has collected millions in investor dollars over eight years.

No publicly available documents reveal how much of that money Condren and his wife, who served as RMP's public relations officer, have taken in salaries over those years. Condren has declined to answer such questions.

He did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.

In the July 15 letter he blamed the economic downturn as the sole circumstance responsible for RMP's demise.

"Our efforts, in general, were successful," Condren told his investors. "However, our timing for complete success was off by six to 12 months."

Steve Nasser, a San Francisco-based investment banker, said he couldn't provide an estimate of precisely how much investor money RMP has collected since its inception. Nasser is a shareholder in RMP and helped the company search for backers.

Jack Skibo, who invested $25,000 in RMP in 2001, said he believes the project was doomed well before the recession.

"I think we had a good chance way back in the beginning, but it all fell apart a long time ago," Skibo said.

"It still hurts. I think anybody who invests in something like this — we did it because we wanted to be a part of something exciting. We wanted to build something. But I've let go of that idea. I let it go a long time ago."