Attesa may seem like an all new project that just appeared out of nowhere but as Kevin Reagan of the Casa Grande Dispatch writes, it’s actually been years in the making:
Pat Johnson is experienced in developing projects, though none probably compares to the 2,360-acre motorsports park he plans to create south of Casa Grande.
Located a few miles outside the city limits, the complex is intended to invite automotive enthusiasts to use its facilities for both recreational and research-based sports racing. Plans for the park include two 2.8-mile road courses, an RV resort, an event plaza and a private airport.
It’s an interesting mixed-use model for the racing industry, according to Johnson, who has been crafting the project with business partner Dan Erickson since 2010.
The duo went public with their project this month and plan to have it completed by 2020.
They’ve called the park Attesa, which is Italian for anticipation — a seemingly appropriate name for a project that its creators deem to be a one-of-a-kind, game-changing venue for Arizona.
As of right now, the park is mostly farmland that Johnson and Erickson already own. It is a somewhat befitting symbol to Johnson’s journey because farmland inadvertently brought him to Casa Grande decades ago and has now lured him back.
After graduating from Arizona State University in the 1970s, Johnson got an accounting job in Phoenix. He wasn’t enjoying the work very much and began looking for another job.
He was approached by Jim Benedict, co-founder of Benedict Feeding Co. near Stanfield, who gave Johnson an offer he couldn’t refuse. He advised Johnson to start his own certified public accounting firm in Casa Grande and even offered a line of credit to help Johnson get started.
Benedict Feeding Co., founded in 1954, was one of the largest cattle-feeding operations in Arizona at the time. At its peak, the business could feed up to 20,000 cattle.
With the help from Benedict, Johnson moved to Casa Grande an immersed himself in the local community. He volunteered with the Rotary Club and sat on the board of directors of The Bank of Casa Grande Valley. A picture in the Casa Grande Dispatch depicted Johnson and other board members reviewing design plans before the bank was built in 1983. It has since become part of Great Western Bank.
Johnson decided to sell his accounting firm in the early 1980s and became co-owner of Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale. It was a career move he wasn’t expecting since the racing industry never seemed to be on his horizon.
He grew up in South Dakota in an era when muscle cars and drag-racing were popular among teenagers, though he considered cars more of a hobby than a potential career.
After arriving at PIR, he said he and co-owner Emmett Jobe made some maintenance improvements to spruce up the raceway that was by then about 20 years old. They also began negotiations to recruit NASCAR to come to the raceway, and it did in 1987.
“Once that race came in, everything changed,” Johnson said.
Attendance jumped at PIR and the raceway’s national presence was heightened. Johnson didn’t stick around long to see NASCAR transform PIR, as he decided to give Jobe full control of the business.
His next stop was to go back East and get involved in the business of land development. He hopped back and forth between Delaware and Florida to work on various residential and commercial projects.
He came back to Arizona to do some work for Lennar Corporation, a home-building company, on a massive 6,000-acre project near Surprise. Bad timing with the country’s financial collapse in 2008 stalled Lennar’s plans and Johnson moved on to other real estate consulting work.
It was around that time of world economic problems that Johnson had the first inklings of a facility like Attesa. He realized there was a high demand by both amateur racers and professional engineers to rent out racing tracks for their endeavors and Arizona hadn’t yet fully tapped into that market.
He had already found the perfect set of parcels for a project of that scope in Pinal County near Interstate 8 but held off moving forward with development until he saw some signs of economic recovery.
He randomly received a call one day from Dan Erickson, who stumbled upon Johnson’s name after Johnson had earlier changed the comprehensive plan on the parcels he was considering for his motorsports idea. Erickson had a similar vision of building a raceway in this region of the state, so they struck up a partnership and put their ideas together.
Erickson’s background was in computer engineering, already teaching college courses in the subject as an 18-year-old in North Dakota. He went on to hold executive positions in various digital companies, while on the side feeding his passion for amateur racing.
Johnson said they went about the project in an “unusual way” by flat-out purchasing the land Attesa is to be built on. He said a typical developer would first find land, put it into escrow, obtain entitlements, then close on it. But buying it first, he said, proves they’re serious about making Attesa a reality.
“Most people have a problem with whether or not this kind of stuff is really going to happen,” Johnson said. “We opened it up with an $11 million investment.”
The Attesa team recently filed an entitlement application in Pinal County and expects to receive final approval from the county this year. An economic impact study is in the works to determine the number of jobs Attesa is projected to create.