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Future revvs up for Snoqualmie Falls mill site
Taking in the panorama of Weyerhaeuser’s 280-acre Snoqualmie Falls mill site, entrepreneurs Greg Lund and Bob Morris sense the history of the place. They also sense potential.
The former lumber mill formed the nucleus of the Snoqualmie community when it opened in 1917. Today, almost all of the structures are gone. But among the empty asphalt lots, bushes and timeworn buildings, Lund and Morris envision a course for drivers to try out the latest automobiles or hone extreme driving skills.
If their bid to buy the property proceeds next month, Lund and Morris will open Ultimate Rally Experience at the mill site. Besides the driving experience business, envisioned uses include teen safety driver training, corporate entertainment and team-building programs, new model launch events, and a possible television or movie filming location.
Weyerhaeuser corporate spokesman Anthony Chavez declined to reveal the purchase price, but said the company has been having case-by-case discussions with prospective buyers.
Chavez said his company expects to close the rally deal soon.
King County codes state that driving is an allowed use as part of specialty training on the site. Lund said that Ultimate Rally Experience cannot develop or build on the property without triggering a land use action. But to start their enterprise, all they will need is a business permit.
Not a racetrack
Morris quashed talk of the mill site being transformed into a racetrack.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.
Ultimate Rally Experience will be a private facility, with no more than 30 people on site for its largest events. There will be no grandstands and no track.
“If anything, we will be taking pavement out,” Lund said. “Our course will be in the gravel. We’re trying to teach people how to react on a loose surface.”
On the rainswept asphalt surface of the site, where mill buildings once stood, Morris and Lund took in the view. Their plans: to leave it exactly as it is.
“This would be a good area for car control,” Morris said. “There’s nothing to hit. You can teach people the dynamics of a car, what it can actually do.”
Ultimate Rally Experience owners are exploring a deal with Ford Motor Company to employ new-model Ford Fiestas, a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder, street-legal subcompact, as their rally model. Lund said course speeds probably won’t exceed 40 miles per hour.
“They’ll have the sensation of speed, without real speed,” Lund said. “You’re on gravel. The noise is inside the car.”
Lund said neighbors probably won’t hear the cars at all; the course would operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
“Our footprint is going to be really small,” Lund said. The prospective buyers plan to increase the number of trees on the property, to give drivers more of a rally-race feel. Driven areas will change from time to time, to give regular visitors a different vista.
“We want to create a forest experience,” Lund said.
Lund and Morris are working with SWERVE driving school founder Ross Bentley as a consultant to their driver safety training program.
“There’s nowhere for people to learn how to drive in extreme circumstances, unless they’re on the road — where it might be too late,” Morris said. “We can teach people what they need to know about driving in extreme circumstances, rain, snow. Ross is helping us because he knows how to do it.”
Along with the land, the sale would include the 10,000-square-foot Weyerhaeuser office building, as well as other structures. Some of those, including the 400-foot planer shed and the old power plant smokestack, are in need of maintenance attention.
“It’s part of our mission to get that restored to its former glory,” Lund said.
Weyerhaeuser’s official presence on the site ended in 2002. Since then, the site has been staffed by a caretaker and security guard.
Morris lives in California. Lund, a Tukwila resident who grew up in Issaquah, said Snoqualmie reminds him of his old hometown when it was small.
“I want to get back to that,” he said.
The men said they have no plans for further development of the mill site.
“We want to be around for a long time,” Morris said.
“This is an opportunity to utilize the old Weyerhaeuser mill site in a way that aligns with local plans to increase tourism in the Snoqualmie Valley,” the owners stated in an FAQ sheet. “The venue will attract sports enthusiasts from around the world, spending money locally and supporting other local attractions.”
Sharing an example, Lund said visitors would stay at the Salish Lodge and explore golf, skiing and other Valley attractions.
He said customers could bring as much as $2.5 million in tourist income annually to the Valley. To be feasible, the business needs between 700 and 2,000 visitors a year. The business will employ between 10 and 35 people.
“We plan to be a great neighbor and support the community through many avenues,” such as philanthropic events, Lund said.
In the last few years, many ideas have been floated about the future of the old mill site, from a waste-to-energy facility to a new housing development to eco-tourism.
With the city of Snoqualmie seeking new and diverse revenue sources, Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson said the small scale of the rally venture holds attraction.
“Don’t assume that large-scale developments are more beneficial,” Larson said. Large developments carry a thin margin of profit for cities.
“It’s not going to impact parks, schools and roads. Those liabilities and burdens, they aren’t there,” the mayor said. “Weyerhaeuser doesn’t have to jump through any hoops.”
The rally venture could also tie in with major draws, such as the Boeing Classic tournament.
“It spotlights the Valley as the backyard playground for the Seattle area,” Larson said.