Their areas of expertise are marble, granite and trees, but a pair of local investors would like to add indoor kart racing to their repertoires with plans to makeover the shuttered Walmart on Blair Mill Road.
Travis Thompson, president of Ivyland-based Suburban Marble and Granite and Carl Asplundh of Willow Grove-based Asplundh Tree Experts, are looking to pump more than $1 million into the 100,000-square-foot former Walmart building located in the Acme shopping center. The hope is to give the vacant big box storefront new life as a Speed Raceway franchise.
Plans involve housing 40 electric-powered cars at roughly $9,000 a piece, inside the former store, Thompson said. Eight of those would race at a time, traveling about one inch off the ground at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, he said.
In Europe, Thompson said 600 similar sites are in operation, as compared to the 20 or so opened so far in the U.S. as kart racing becomes more popular.
“We’re looking at about nine sites around Philadelphia,” Thompson told the Horsham Township Council Monday night, of the facility, which would also house an arcade with video games.
And if the council’s early opposition is any indication, the group may need to continue seeking out potential sites.
“I live down there in that area. I do struggle with whether it belongs there. There’s a lot of residential,” Council President Mark McCouch said. “That shopping center needs help and I just don’t think this is the help it needs.”
When asked if some use was better than no use, McCouch said, “not always.”
The site Thompson and Asplundh are considering is in a rundown plaza home to graffiti, vacant storefronts and Acme as the anchor. The council laid out reasons – ranging from fears over the raceway attracting loitering teens; to its proposed $20 to $25 cost per eight-minute race; to its deemed inability to draw other lucrative retail establishments to the ailing plaza – as points outlining why the raceway may not be a good fit.
Instead of offering a favorable or neutral opinion for an upcoming zoning hearing board meeting that had been scheduled for next month, the council asked Thompson and Asplundh to hold off and be heard at the July zoning hearing board meeting instead.
In the interim, Councilman Gregory Nesbitt said he would like to see a commitment from plaza owner Hampa Realty to make upgrades to the shopping center, including façade improvements, restriping and some of the landscaping.
“Maybe if you gave a little that would cause the owner to come back and make this whole thing work,” Nesbitt said. “Sometimes the promises down the line or the expectations down the line don’t materialize. If we could get some certainties, I would be much more inclined to accept what I thought is not a perfect use.”
McCouch said the shopping center has steadily declined over the last 10 years and was hit hard when Walmart left five years ago for a new home on Blair Mill Road in Willow Grove.
In other business, the council authorized solicitor Mary Eberle to send a letter to the zoning hearing board opposing request to install an 8-foot-long and nearly 3-foot-wide electronic, digital display sign at its restaurant on Easton Road.