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Austin City Council

The Year via the Rearview Mirror

As many of us look back on 2011, what stands out as your favorite memory?

From time to time I take a look at what we were writing about on this site at the same time last year. Imagine my surprise to discover it was the aerial photos of the racetrack site, before any construction had begun. From my window seat on a flight into Austin, I was surprised how many times I had flown over the land before and never really noticed it, but honestly, there wasn't too much to stare at in Elroy from an airplane window. However, just a day after our photo release, first signs of work appeared on site as a construction crew met with Tavo Hellmund for a photo-op and official ground-breaking of the site. It wasn't quite the gold shovel event we were hoping it would be, but naysayers and 'boondoggle' speculators were hushed as Tavo showed the world that construction was underway.

Since this announcment, looking back at 2011 has revealed a truth, it's been a fantastic year, both as fans of motorsports and as a team here at AGP, we have constantly been surprised with each of this year's exciting happenings. From early on in the year, the connection we made with Asif Kapadia facilitated the introduction of SENNA at the SXSW film festival, opening up the life of Ayrton Senna for fans and non-fans of motorsports. From my point of view, it truly changed my life, not only seeing the immense technical and competitive war within the sport, but personalities that extended far beyond the track. It opened up the sport to me in a way that even Kevin couldn't explain, and many we talked with as well, were also just so surprised with the way the movie effected them.

Following the SXSW festival, the formal announcment of Circuit of The Americas at the press conference in April came quicker than expected, with the added bonus of MotoGP and growing evidence of major site construction and heavy equipment at the track. The summer's city council meetings along with the MAKE IT HAPPEN campaign we started, helped drive the community to rally to support COTA and the City of Austin to move forward.

During the one month Formula 1 break, the SENNA movie returned to Austin as the hype for Formula 1 grew and getting a chance to speak with viewers of the film just following their experience at Violet Crown Cinema was a real treat. To add icing on the cake, Red Bull Racing and former F1 driver David Coulthard visited Austin for a commercial shoot which roared throught the streets of downtown and the county roads outside. This was a great chance for many to get their first glimpse at an F1 car in person. It was quite a treat and undoubtibly was a great sucess in opening the eyes (and ears) of many curious Austinites.

The final leg of the season segwayed into a downtown watch party location at SIX Lounge, and started a new venue for fans and non-fans to get together and watch, learn, and relax on a Sunday afternoon. Opening up an additional location was critical in our mind to help expand the reach of motorsport to new fans.

As the one year countdown to the innagural race approached, things began to shake up a bit between Bernie Ecclestone and the officals of COTA. Things finally were ironed out just a few weeks later, and on December 7th, the official placement of the Formula 1 race in Austin was secured, along with a revised contract with the officials of COTA and F1. It was an early holiday treat, but a very welcome one as the fate of Austin's race was surely going to effect the fans in the US.

So where are we today? Looking back at this past year and the magnificent things that have happened, it's hard to not be so anxious for 2012 to begin. Only a few hours away and we'll be counting down the days to the first race at COTA and the return of Formula 1 to the U.S. after several years. It should be no surprise that more and more attention will be paid to what's happening here, likely to cause some headaches, but nontheless, we are proud to welcome everything that will be happening in 2012. It's likely to get 300% more exciting, and we at AGP are ready for 2012! Are you?



Austin City Council chambers packed with supporters at last Thursday's meeting

The "ayes" have it and the motion is carried.
Austin Approves F1 Project!

The Austin City Council just voted seconds ago to approve the resolutions related to the Agreement between the City of Austin, The Texas Comptroller and the COTA Local Organizing Committee.

Mayor Leffingwell was joined by Council Members Martinez, Riley, Cole and Spelman in approving the measures. Council Members Tovo and Morrison voted in opposition.

As a recap, the measures:

  1. Authorized the City Manager to negotiate and execute an Interlocal Agreement with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to: 1) Establish a METF for the F1 US Grand Prix and 2) Set forth the rights and obligations of the parties as required under the METF statute.
  2. Authorized the COTA Local Organizing Committee ("CELOC") to act on the city's behalf 1) Establish the parties' authority, rights, and responsibilities with respect to an application to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts for creation of a METF in support of the F1 US Grand Prix and 2) establish the parties' authority, rights, and responsibilities with respect to payments to and from the Fund.
  3. (Hotel fee waiver ordinance)
  4. Discussion and possible action on a term sheet describing environmental standards and expectations regarding the Circuit of the Americas and related parties.

We also enjoyed reading Council Member Bill Spelman's email that he sent in response to all those that emailed him about the F1 vote. He highlights three concerns:

  1. There must be no financial risk for the City of Austin or its taxpayers.
  2. The City of Austin must be able to terminate all contracts due to non-performance.
  3. Circuit of the Americas must meet the sustainability expectations.

You can take a closer look at Mr. Spelman's email by clicking here.

Regarding the sustainibility expectations, The Austin American-Statesman exclusively shared a press release from Council Member Chris Riley's office late yesterday afternoon. Mr. Riley, Council Member Mike Martinez and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell all sponsor and support an unprecedented initiative to make Circuit of the Americas a landmark "Green" Formula One facility. This tentative agreement addresses numerous environmental and sustainibility issues. Here are a few points that COTA has tentatively agreed to implement at the one-of-a-kind Circuit of the Americas:

  • Provide satellite parking and dedicated lanes for mass transit options
  • Build structures to Austin Energy Green Building standards
  • Invest in on-site renewable energy
  • Embrace aggressive recycling and composting practices
  • Invest in local carbon offsets, such as tree plantings and land conservation
  • Buy into Austin Energy’s Green Choice program
  • Dedicate land for a community garden
  • Partner with other organizations, such as Austin Technology Incubator, to support on-site green technology and research and development projects
  • Coordinate with local educational institutions such as UT, Texas State , Huston-Tillotson, and Texas A&M to do green racing and transportation research
  • Host alternative energy and energy efficient car races, in addition to cycling and foot races

Thanks EVERYONE for your help, tweets, comments, posts; YOU truly helped MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Austin, MAKE IT HAPPEN! from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.


More THANK YOUs to everyone who has ever watched and participated in the past five (yes 5) Austin City Council meetings regarding F1 since November of last year.

Your first beer at the inaugural F1 race at Circuit of the Americas
in 2012 is ON US!

Cheers :)


Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 29th, the Austin City Council will hopefully decide if the city should sponsor the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) request for a 10-year $25M sales tax rebate from the Texas Major Events Trust Fund (METF).  Normally a sponsoring entity like a city or county would commit up front their anticipated share of the sales tax gain, estimated at approximately $4M for Austin, but in this case the F1 event organizers have even committed to put up the $4M for the next 10 years, so there is basically no risk for the city of Austin taxpayers (as frequently repeated by COTA's attorney of record, Richard Suttle).

Events by Category (Click to Enlarge)

I’m not going to debate whether or not this state fund should exist, but I do think it’s important that all Texas taxpayers, and others, be aware of what it is and why it exists.  The Texas legislature created this “series” of funds (METF, ETF, SpETF, & MSRTF) to be funded by incremental sales and use tax proceeds derived from hosting major events within Texas, and yes, many other states/municipalities have similar funds to lure major events to their area, this is nothing new.  It’s actually very similar to the tax abatements offered to companies that decide to locate or re-locate their businesses to a particular city based on the overall positive economic and employment impact on the area. Think Southwestern Bell (SWB) relocating to San Antonio from St. Louis, and then SWB buying AT&T moving to Dallas, etc.  In many cases, cities actually “invest” in the development of the hosting facility itself, for example Arlington, TX contributing $325M towards the construction of the new $1.2B Cowboys Stadium (Dallas Morning News July 11, 2010).

Events by Location (Click to Enlarge)

Despite the rumors and false statements circulating that this money takes away funds from education or other state programs, which by law is impossible, these funds are designed to be self-supporting due to the anticipated incremental revenue the state receives from additional sales taxes collected during these events.  However, I do concede that if these funds did not exist, and if the events came to Texas without the “subsidy,” then that additional revenue would be available for other public funding.  But if that was the case, how many of these large events would have decided to go somewhere else where some type public funding is available?  This the primary reason these funds exist, and if the opponents are successful in eliminating these rebates for F1, then in fairness, all METF/ETF funding should be revoked, which only the state legislature can enact at this point in time.  And before you cry about the $25M for 10 years, please understand that the only “apples to apples” comparison with other METF events is the Super Bowl, which received $31M in funding last year.  This is because it shares similar attributes with F1 as the only class of event that draws tens of thousands of visitors from outside the state of Texas, and many internationally.  Remember, the key word is “incremental” revenue to the city and state.

Funding by Category (Click To Enlarge)Therefore, the real question is why would anyone oppose this funding?  I suspect if the request involved hosting the BCS Championship Bowl series at Texas Stadium for the next 10 years, not many Austinites would even bat an eye; in fact, most would bend over backwards in support.  Or if it was NASCAR or Indy Cars or the NCAA Final Four, most of the opposition wouldn’t exist.  Formula 1 and MotoGP, for that matter, are lesser known events to many folks in the U.S., and the “trial” street F1 races in Dallas, Detroit, and Los Angeles were simply one-time races on temporary street circuits.  Yes, F1 was successful at Watkins Glen, NY for twenty consecutive years and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 2000-2007, despite negotiations and conflict over the effective promotion of the sport, in 2008, both F1 and Indy mutually agreed to terminate their contract; that’s just business, as Trump would say.

Funding by Location (Click to Enlarge)

In an effort to give you an appreciation for the proliferation of how these funds are used, and for what types of events, I have provided this Comptroller document that lists the actual or anticipated approved expenditures since the fund creation in FY04, through FY11 (to date).  I created summary pie charts for those who are too busy to look at the data (although I highly recommend it, after all, the devil is in the details).  Please take note of a few interesting observations derived from this list.  How many of these events are organized for the benefit of private enterprise?  How many are medical group related?  How many are horse/livestock shows? NCAA or other special interest events?  Almost all of them.  Now how many were held in Austin?  Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio?  Maybe Austin should take a few lessons from their neighbors to the southwest; they obviously know how to "work the system.”  Bottom line if you want to debate the effectiveness or use of these funds, you should call your State Representative or Senator, not oppose the efforts to bring these events to the Austin area which will only strengthen the local economy and provide needed jobs for many.   

Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsports worldwide and it draws the attention of 600 million television viewers each year!  This is where the money is!  Only the Olympics and World Cup Soccer draw more fans, and they only occur every 4 years.  If you would have attended the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, as we did a few weeks back, I guarantee you would have a much greater appreciation for the economic impact of these events.  As an alternative, read about why local Montreal businesses and residents alike petitioned the city of Montreal to re-instate the race after a two-year hiatus attributed to similar questions regarding the high cost of F1 sanction fees.  It is just business; but that’s what sustains life as we know it.

If you’re still not convinced, read Will Buxton’s letter from last week to the Austin City Council again.  Or just imagine what the INTERNATIONAL television exposure could mean to Austin businesses, especially to companies like Dell, AMD, and many others that desire to expand their business globally.

American Democrazy

Raise your hand if yesterday was the first time you ever watched a City Council meeting? Now raise your other hand if you don't even live in Austin, Texas?

Yesterday was nothing short of a democracy marathon. We were actively watching the live webcast, listening to the radio feed and tweeting the entire time. Kevin was in attendance and he donated his 3 minutes of speaking in favor of the F1 proposal due to other time constraints.

We thought the Austin City Council did a great job allowing both proponents and opponents to have their voices heard at the meeting, which began at 10:00AM with an exit speech from Council Member Randi Shade, broke for Executive Session at noon, reconvened at about 2:00PM and concluded with a vote at 5:00PM. KUT News reported an unconfirmed number of 243 people signed up to speak in favor of the approval of the F1 agenda items, 26 against and 3 neutrals.

Our Will Buxton Video was broadcast for the Council and in front of the maximum capacity of the Chambers. We immediately started receiving messages from people around the world thanking and congratulating Will on his "presence" at the meeting! Will was watching the Austin City Council meeting via the web from the Valencia Street Circuit, where all the F1 teams, crews, reporters, employees and supporters are located for this weekend's European Grand Prix. It was inspiring to hear from our fans from around the world that they were tuning in to watch this American democratic process unfold.

But while listening to the opponents arguments, we received a message from Will that he had further comments to share. We worked our magic and found another F1 proponent who was willing to read Will's letter at the Council meeting. Thank you Scooter!


Scooter Womack, F1 proponent, reading Will Buxton's email at the June 23, 2011 Austin City Council meeting on behalf of The Austin Grand PrixHere is Will's letter in full:

"As I sit here in the media centre at the Valencia Street Circuit, home of the 2011 European Grand Prix, I and many of my colleagues are hanging on every word coming through to us online of today’s events in Austin, Texas.

There have been some salient points made, but there have been a number of falsities and some scaremongering, which I feel it only correct to address, particularly in light of an ill informed article by Dutch Mandel in AutoWeek, which those who have displayed an argument against the race today, have almost all referenced.

Bernie Ecclestone has become a rich man through his control of Formula 1. Of that there is no question. But this is a man who was almost single handedly responsible for turning this sport from a ragtag operation into the single most watched regular sporting event on earth. Only the Olympic Games and the Soccer World Cup get more viewers globally, and they happen only once every four years. This sport happens every other weekend. If you’d come up with the idea, you’d probably feel you were entitled to a cut, wouldn’t you? Of course you would.

But the anti lobby seems to believe that he and he alone will take the race hosting fee and run away with it. But Bernie Ecclestone, although still in charge of this sport politically, has for a long time not owned this sport. He is a minority shareholder. He is responsible for ensuring that the sport remains profitable for its current owners (a private equity firm)

But that fee doesn’t even go purely into the equity firm’s pocket either. This sport takes the money, divides it between teams to aid with their transport costs year on year, pays out to those who score well in the world championship and races. The sport does not run on breadcrumbs. It never has. It never will. No business can.

It is the highest form of racing spectacle on earth. Last season over 500 million people worldwide watched Formula 1.

Why, as AutoWeek suggests you do, would you wish to run away from that kind of exposure?

It is exposure which national governments have decided is worthy of investment to promote their country and host city for international tourists.

In the case of Austin it has taken individuals and entrepeneurs to take the decision and personal financial risk to build a track that, in most other nations on earth, would have been funded by national governments. Circuit of the Americas are doing this because they have a dream. And this dream is one which can only serve the people and the city of Austin, Texas.

As I sit here in this paddock, I am surrounded by hundreds of fellow journalists. In the paddock beneath me are hundreds of people who work for the Formula 1 teams and put these cars on track. There are hundreds of people working in hospitality. Around the track are hundreds of local people acting in their roles at the circuit, be it promotional, be it trackside, be it operational.

Hundreds of thousands of race fans will attend this race.

Every one of them needs a hotel room. Every one of them needs to eat. Every one of them wants to have a cold beer at the end of the day. And if every one of them has a good time, how likely will they be to return, not just for the race but simply to visit? And how many of their friends would wish to visit the city based on the recommendation of those who have attended?

This is one race. Formula 1 is one circus. MotoGP, Nascar, Indycar. They all operate similar numbers. They all bring an influx of funds to the cities and surrounding area in which they race. Year on year.

Two weeks ago in Montreal, the centre of the town became one big F1 party.  Every shop front carried chequered flags. Every shop was full. Everyone you passed carried bags of purchases. Day after day. Business boomed. As it does, every single year.

Again, to reference the autoweek article, what part of that is something that Austin would wish to run away from?

A ten year promise to pay $25 million a year is by no means a small investment on face value.

But the revenue from those who attend, the exposure that the city will receive, will dwarf the initial outlay.

But that depends on Austin. If the city embraces this sport, if it is welcomed with open arms, Formula 1 will open itself to you.

Make it happen.

This sport cannot wait to return to America. And to its new home, in Austin, Texas."

The outcome of the meeting was a 6-1 vote in favor of postponing the decision of the Austin City Council to vote on Agenda Items 20, 21 and 101. That will take place next Wednesday, June 23. The City of Austin has created a Formula One page which includes in-depth materials related to the matter. You can access the page here.

Thank you to all our fans. It is truly amazing to hear from people around the world, telling us that they have never been to a city council meeting, nonetheless in a city they don't even live in. We even got a message that a fan in Dubai was glued to their computer until 11:00PM watching the webcast. Amazing.

More info to come about next week's City Council meeting. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Thank you and MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Today's City Council Meeting - #MAKEITHAPPEN

The Austin City Council meeting has started. The chamber is at 100% capacity.

Austin City Council Chamber, June 23, 2011

Watch it LIVE here:

In the event that we crash their live webcast AGAIN, try the live radio feed here:

The complete Agenda:

Our F1 items

Item #20:

Item #21:

Item #101:

There are 136 items on today's agenda. We will continue to update you throughout the day. The most up-to-date news will be shared in 140 characters via our twitter stream:

THANK YOU everyone for your amazing support. MAKE IT HAPPEN!


How do you summarize an amazing four days in a foreign country where you were welcomed by friendly and fun people from around the world and created lifelong memories and friendships? How do you capture the energy and enthusiasm shared with you from people around the world that proclaim their interest and promise in visiting your hometown in the near future? How do you retell the experience of hearing, smelling, seeing and, most importantly, feeling the rush of a Formula One race car only feet (or meters) away in a legendary city at one of the most historic races of recent history?

Perhaps actions do speak louder than words:

Austin, MAKE IT HAPPEN! from The Austin Grand Prix on Vimeo.


For the F1 newbies, you may be asking yourself: Who is this man and why is he standing on a chair commanding the attention and uproar of a crowded pub, nonetheless talking about the Austin City Council?

Well, what had happened was…Will Buxton sent out a tweet inviting his Twitter followers to meet for drinks in Montreal the night before the Canadian Grand Prix. His pals Karun Chandhok and Charlie Whiting* were in attendance, in addition to many other F1 VIPs.

Will's F1 Drinks Tweet

Will is a gregarious and well-respected F1 pit reporter for SPEED TV Channel in the US. We met Will and he immediately shared his informed concern on recent and upcoming Austin City Council agenda items, although he admits he’s not so sure what happens at American city council meetings (and, who does?).

After meeting Will and mingling with F1 fans from around the world (including a lovely and lively bunch from Vancouver who would have come back to Austin with us if we had enough room in our suitcases :), we were moved, yet not terribly surprised at the support everyone shared for making the Austin Grand Prix happen next year.

The pub was jam-packed with outgoing people from around the world. Their common thread: F1 racing. When Kevin and I booked our Montreal tickets six months ago, we saw the importance and opportunity in experiencing a Formula One race close to home and returning to Austin with stories to share. We are *still* mulling over the 5,000 pictures and hours of video shot.

The more and more people Kevin and I met the more inspiring stories we heard and were able to capture. At one point, I went up to Kevin and told him to have his camera ready, just like at April’s Press Conference with Bob Varsha. I asked Will if he would garner the support of the entire pub so we could send a special message back to Austin and the City Council. We shared the plan with F1 fans throughout the pub, and then Will jumped up on a chair and shared his support, which is felt by F1 and racing fans from around the world:





So what is Will talking about? You thought everything was approved since the facility construction is progressing nicely? Even the famed Sutton Images had GREAT progress to report from their visit last week.

There has been a lot happening in Austin lately surrounding the Circuit of the Americas (“COTA”) facility and the subsequent Formula One races, which are scheduled to start on June 17, 2012. The most pressing issue is the upcoming Austin City Council meeting to be held this Thursday, June 23. At this meeting, the City Council will be asked to:

1. Approve a resolution authorizing the City Manager to complete the agreement with the Texas Comptroller and proceed with the Major Events Trust Fund (“METF”) establishment with Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix; and

2. Approve a resolution authorizing the newly created Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee (the “LOC”) to act on the City’s behalf and authorizing #1 above.

Let us first say we recognize how confusing and difficult the Austin City Council and Texas Major Events Trust Fund issues are to navigate. The Austin Grand Prix is made up of Formula One fans, but first and foremost, we are proud and loud fans of the great city of Austin, Texas. We support responsible and sustainable growth and expect all actions surrounding Formula One United States Grand Prix and the Circuit of the Americas to be in the best interests of the city of Austin and its bar none citizens.

That being said, we were pleasantly surprised to read about last week’s revelation that Full Throttle Productions, LP (Tavo Hellmund’s entity promoting the race and the major backer) has decided to front the $4M annual city funds required to access the State of Texas’s METF. This means Austin taxpayer support will be eliminated and COTA would still have access to the METF funds which are generated by tax dollars and specifically set aside for major sporting events. (Note: the METF funds CANNOT be reassigned for other state budget issues, such as education, despite knee-jerk statements made by F1 opponents).**

With your active participation last year, we were able to share your support for F1 with the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioner’s Office and we are asking for your loud voices to be heard again. Now we need your help to follow through on Will’s message to MAKE IT HAPPEN!

1. Share Will’s video with your friends and get people to post comments saying “AUSTIN - MAKE IT HAPPEN!” on the Vimeo video page, at the end of this page, on our Facebook page or send a Tweet to @AustinGrandPrix. Anywhere and everywhere!

2. We have found at least three different electronic petitions started by Austin F1 fan groups that could really use your support. Please take the time to sign each one of them and pass them on to your friends as well. You do not need to live in Austin or even Texas to sign these petitions!

Petition 1

Petition 2

Petition 3

3. As with all of our Calls to Action over the past year, your *personalized* and *individual* messages to Austin City Council members go a long way. I have spoken to Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez and he told me he READS EVERY EMAIL! Not his assistant; not someone on his staff; but him personally. I don’t know about you but I have a hard enough time keeping up on email. He has received over 2,000 emails regarding the upcoming June 23 meeting. Can we double that? (Sorry Mike! ;)

The Austin City Council consists of the following respectable individuals:

We suggest you make the subject of your message: “AUSTIN – MAKE IT HAPPEN!” and include a personal message regarding your feelings about F1 in Austin 2012.

4. Attend the City Council meeting this Thursday by following the instructions posted on this page:  Citizen Participation. As mentioned earlier, the Austin City Council will meet at 10:00AM CST this Thursday, June 23 at the Office of the City Clerk, City Hall, 301 W. 2nd Street, Suite 1120, Austin, Texas 78701.

5. If you cannot attend this week’s Council meeting, you can watch it live online via the City of Austin’s Channel 6.  Although please be patient, as we had so many viewers tune in once that we crashed the live webcast – whoopsie!

Thank you for seeing this article through to the very end. As with all great things, nothing is simple. We look forward to your support and seeing you in Austin in 2012 – MAKE IT HAPPEN!


*The real Charlie Whiting on Twitter, however the Fake Charlie Whiting IRL (legally).

**This is our very brief summary of the METF issues. Luckily, our friends at the Austin American-Statesman, Austin Business Journal and Austin Chronicle have spent many hours hashing it out (just click on their hyperlinked names).