ONAWA, Iowa | Phil Schroder has a call out for thrill-seekers with street-legal cars to come use the drag strip at the old Onawa municipal airport on Saturday.
It's the first open house I've heard of that features folks zipping down a cement path as fast as they can.
This is the newest thing in Onawa. Or, maybe the new Onawa.
The Onawa Racing and Entertainment Complex stakes its claim on the interest, having worked with the City of Onawa to develop the drag strip at the airport, a facility the city closed two years ago, citing a lack of revenue. Work began to transform the site into a drag strip offering race competitions covering 1,000 feet, one-eighth mile and one-quarter mile.
Phil Schroder, vice president of OREC (the racing group) walked me through the $400,000 event center that's nearing completion. The structure, which measures 60 feet by 150 feet, may one day soon host wedding receptions, reunions, concerts, meetings, estate auctions and the like in addition to regular race dates.
"We're planning to do a soccer field here on the grounds as well as sand volleyball and mud-drags," Schroder said.
The new building and the track's two-story timing tower have risen on the southern edge of the grounds, a 100-acre parcel just south of the Onawa Country Club's 9-hole layout. OREC has entered into a 99-year lease of the site with the city.
Promoter Scott Gardner of Gardner Race Track Consultants directs a full racing slate in 2018, Schroder said, a schedule that may attract drivers and drag racing enthusiasts from across the Midwest. The nearest drag strips around are Thunder Valley Dragways near Parker, South Dakota, and I-29 Dragway at Pacific Junction, Iowa, sites that are an average of 105 miles from Sioux City.
OREC members continue to offer $1,000 shares to help finance construction and operation of the complex. The group, according to Schroder, has already raised $500,000 and would like to sell an additional 500 shares.
The city's participation amounts to $613,000 at this point, according to Elaine Miller, Onawa city clerk. The city provided $500,000 in Tax Increment Financing and has pledged another $300,000 to fund the construction project, an effort that's largely been accomplished through the use of local contractors and subcontractors. To date, OREC has been reimbursed for $113,000 of that $300,000 total.
"We want people to understand this track will be debt free," Schroder said, adding that he'd like to one day employ 10-18 people at the complex.
Schroder, who moved to Onawa from nearby Decatur, Nebraska, in 1982, drag-raced throughout the 1970s. He's continued to follow the sport for years and has eyed this kind of effort in the Monona County seat for 15 years.
"I think of it as economic development for Onawa," said Schroder, who owns Schroder Services Inc. "If we break even here and put 1,500 people in the stands, those people will be spending money at the new (Cubby's) truck stop that's being built. They'll spend money at our filling stations, restaurants and bars."
Eventually, he predicted, real estate taxes on this parcel might amount to $50,000, funds the City of Onawa could put to use in a variety of other areas in town.
"People ask, 'What if it doesn't work?'" Schroder said. "If it doesn't work, Onawa still has an airport here plus a new event center.
"I guess I'd rather focus on a different question," Schroder said. "The question: What if it does work?"
Drivers, fans and prospective shareholders may see for themselves at the open house from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Schroder said drivers are welcome to spend two to three hours that day doing something I've not seen at an open house: Test drive a drag strip.