- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A real estate developer and his business partner from the Kansas City, Missouri, area are the new owners of the Heartland Park Topeka racing facility, apparently ending more than a year of uncertainty about the track’s future.

Chris Payne said Thursday he and Todd Crossley and their company, Shelby LLC, reached an agreement with CoreFirst Bank & Trust and have already taken possession of the track.

The announcement came only hours after The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1IXfSgb ) that another potential owner, Jim Farnum and his group, Heartland USA LLC, had ended negotiations with CoreFirst, which took legal ownership of the track in August.

Payne said Thursday after it became clear recently that a proposed deal between CoreFirst and Heartland USA LLC wasn’t going to happen, he and Crossley met with CoreFirst to finalize an ownership agreement.

The track’s future has been unclear since a proposed deal between the city and former owner Raymond Irwin was rejected by the Topeka City Council in May. The council voted not to issue STAR bonds to purchase the track and expand a district collecting sales tax to pay off the new bonds and others issued years ago.

Payne said his company has already started working to get the track ready for the 2016 season. His top priority is to confirm a deal with the National Hot Rod Association to keep the park’s marquee event, the Kansas Nationals, in Topeka.

The park was closed for most of 2015, although the NHRA held several events, including the Nationals. NHRA officials have told The Capital-Journal that they would consider putting the track back on the 2016 schedule once the new ownership was decided.

“It’s exciting for everybody,” Payne said. “My partner and I are ex-racers and still involved in racing to this extent, and we see a lot of opportunity, not just for racing, but for development out there with things that surround racing.”

Farnum, head of the Minnesota group that had been negotiating for months to take over Heartland Park, issued a statement Wednesday night that his company and CoreFirst Bank & Trust stopped negotiating because the process was taking too long.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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