Formula 1 to bring economical, academic opportunities to Austin

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An F1 construction worker, who declined to be named, attended the City Council meeting in order to show his support for the project. After four hours of debating, Austin approved to fund a race to be held in 2012.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Austin City Council approved a contract Wednesday that enables the city to host the first U.S. Formula 1 race since 2007, allowing construction on the track to move forward.

After lengthy public input over the past few weeks, the contract passed in a special session Wednesday. Under the terms of the contract, no city money will be used to fund the track. It also outlines environmental standards for the track that should make it the “greenest motor sports facility in the world,” according to a City Council press release. The track will host other events including bike races and concerts.

The revenue from events at the track should help the Austin economy said Roy Benear, Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau senior vice president.

“It’s not just about the one race. It’s about the events,” Benear said. “They want to build a long-lasting relationship in the hotel industry. They are a venue operator that have this track that is designed for various races whether it’s motorcycle, car, human driven.”

Rodney Gonzales, deputy director for economic growth and redevelopment services for the city, said there will be an estimated 4,000 employment opportunities during large events such as the F1 race.

“This is a great opportunity to create jobs for all types of people, especially in an area that has been economically depressed,” Gonzales said.

Council member Chris Riley helped establish an agreement for the environmental standards that the track will be expected to meet.

According to the press release, plans for the track include investment in on-site renewable energy, aggressive recycling and composting practices and carbon offsets such as planting trees.

“I think it presents a package that includes a wide variety of sustainability on site and in the community in terms of carbon offsets,” Riley said. “We’ve provided the basis for future research and development. In the future, there will be growing pressure for us to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, so we now have set up for Austin to be at the center for those research efforts.”

Council member Laura Morrison and newly elected council member Kathie Tovo voted against the contract. Morrison said the state funding controversy led her to vote against the measure. The state comptroller offered Formula 1 $25 million every year for the next few years if they hold the race in Texas.

“It’s something I always struggled with, the fact that we are party to unlocking the state funds,” Morrison said. “I don’t think we should be participating and enabling a quarter of a billion dollar tax payment to a private for-profit enterprise.”
In public statements, Mayor Lee Leffingwell said public testimony should focus on specific items in the contract, not its overall merits.

Austin resident Susan Moffat testified against the contract before the vote Wednesday, expressing concerns about vague language and haste in the decision making process. These concerns contributed to a delay in voting on the contract originally scheduled for last Thursday.

“Nothing in this deal is solid, and I think it would behoove you to take the time you need to get all this vetted by my imaginary, pit bull, ruthless attorney and somebody who has vast experience dealing with the statutory obligations in the context of these complex legal instruments,” Moffat said.

The agreement outlines collaboration with local educational institutions including UT, Texas State University, Huston-Tillotson University and Texas A&M University to do green racing and transportation research, according to the press release.

Finance senior Mark Wise is a member of UT’s Formula Society of Automotive Engineers. The student organization placed eighth overall out of 80 university teams competing for car design at the most recent Formula Society of Automotive Engineers competition.

“We could partner with Austin Formula 1, not only for sponsorship, but for expertise,” Wise said. “It’s probably the most serendipitous thing to happen for the team in a while.”

Printed on 06/30/2011 as: Formula 1 to bring wealth, greener energy to Austin