Not having been inside the construction zone since April, I was semi-prepared for a different perspective. The last video we shot in Elroy was back in October, but it was outside the fence; we've been keeping up with the photos floating around in cyberspace like vultures circling their prey, but nothing could prepare me for this.
From the open-aired comfort of our off-roading taxi, our Austin Commercial guide started pointing out the favorite features of his outdoor office. Bits and pieces started to look familiar: that's the tunnel, I recognize it from COTA's Facebook photo album; those are retaining walls, and there's Turn 1.
My whole perspective shifted when we were halfway up the incline of what's sure to be the United States GP's zenith: Turn 1.
The miniature city grew smaller and smaller on our steep ascent. Bulldozers and Tonka truck lookalikes whizzed by. This looked very different from our first trip up Turn 1 back in April; what was once large masses of dirt has taken shape. Turns are easily identifiable with large numbered flags and berms have been carved out which will one day seat many of us reading this. You finally get a grasp on the magnitude of this project from atop Turn 1 because you can see it all: the 300-400+ construction workers, the positioning of the future Grandstand and Paddock building, the downtown Austin skyline in the background, and my new favorite feature: The Grand Plaza.
To put it simply, the Grand Plaza is going to rock. In the past 3 days they have created a sunken ampitheater by digging a hole that is roughly the width of a football field, the length of two football fields, and 50 feet deep. At the east end of the ampitheater will be a round tower that will soon make its way to the top of Austin's destination list. A large observation deck, designed by the Austin architecture firm Miró Rivera Architects, will give viewers a panaromic perspective of the entire Circuit of The Americas dreamland set against Texas Hill Country. To the west you will have unparalleled views of our iconic Frost Tower and its neighboring buildings in downtown Austin. The tower and observation deck should be complete the first year with future plans to finish it out to include a banquet hall for 600 people, a club on the top floor, a museum and unrivaled suites on the first floor.
To the west of the tower and observation deck sits the ampitheater. I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite places in the world, Chicago's Millennium Park. COTA is working to have our newest Austin ampitheater ready this year and should accommodate 14,000 live performance viewers. Like many ampitheater settings, there will be floor or standing room tickets for 1,500 (sometimes also referred to the mosh pit), then directly behind that, 3,500 permanent seats, and then it opens up to about 9,000 lawn seats. Continue moving west and you'll hit the reflection pond which might tempt unwanted swimmers when we hit our famous 100'F+ heat streaks.
I'm a huge live music fan so it's no surprise that I'm drawn to the outdoor ampitheater. But I think COTA is doing something very smart by creating an expansive and multi-use space in their mini-city. How many visitors will come to see Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett perform and be intrigued by the racetrack? Or parents bring their kids to the observation deck and the kids get a different view of the world than from Austin Duck Tours? Huge potential to introduce non-oval style racing to an entirely new fanbase.
We covered a lot of ground out at the Circuit yesterday and this is just part of it. Over the next week we'll hit on the pit/paddock area and share our interview with COTA spokesperson Jeff Hahn as he goes into more detail about the progress. Until then, enjoy our photographs taken at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas on January 12, 2012 - 311 days until our United States Grand Prix, in case you're counting (and we know you are).