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Commissioners hear first public briefing on Formula One

Wednesday, September 8, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

On Tuesday, the attorney representing promoters of the proposed Formula One racetrack in southeast Travis County unveiled a rough plan to county commissioners, the first such briefing to a public entity and one that left the court with a long list of unanswered questions.


Richard Suttle, who represents Full Throttle Productions, provided an overview of the project, anticipated to pump in the realm of $300 million into the regional economy.


Groundbreaking in southeast Travis County would need to be in December, Suttle said, in order to open the track by the planned 2012 date.


Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, expressing the county’s concern about traffic problems on event dates, peppered Suttle with questions: Do you have an overall traffic management plan? What about a traffic impact analysis? When can organizers start talking to the county about the project?


Suttle said they did not have a traffic management plan or impact analysis and that he didn’t know when county-level discussions would begin, but those issues are being worked on. So far, the county has received a grading plan for the project, and Suttle said a site plan is forthcoming.


Suttle later told In Fact Daily the grading plan includes topography, erosion controls and a water quality plan for the property. He said he expects to meet with Joe Gieselman, executive manager of Travis County’s Transportation and Natural Resources Department this week.


Suttle said his clients are in the process of studying traffic infrastructure. “We’ve sought input from the state, as well as we’re in the process of talking to local traffic engineers and the traffic planners that were responsible for coming up with the traffic plan at Silverstone, England for their grand prix.”


The conversation stuck on talk about who would pay for road improvements deemed necessary to accommodate the tens of thousands of people who would attend the events. At one point, Eckhardt reiterated to Suttle a comment he made earlier in the presentation, that his clients would likely pay for road improvements.


“Well, that is a broad statement. We may disagree on what’s required, but obviously, we’re going to do our part to make sure that it works,” he said. “If the wish list comes back that we need to build another highway or this, that and the other…then we’ll have to have the discussion: If something’s needed, who bears that cost may depend on who actually thinks it’s needed to make the event….”


“I absolutely agree that conversation needs to happen,” Eckhardt said. “It probably should have started before now.”


Commissioner Karen Huber broke into Eckhardt’s questioning at one point to get a better idea of the timeline.


“If you know you’re trying to fast-track it, well, when are these things going to happen?” she said.


“Well, as you can imagine, we’re working as fast as we can,” Suttle said. “It’s like drinking water from a fire hydrant. We are confident that it is going to work out. It’s just one of those things — It’s going to work. It’s just a matter of having good information so we can make good decisions.”


The proposed track, which would be the only such racing facility in the United States, would be build on 900 acres of land southeast of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The location is crucial because the racecars are built from scratch and equipment and parts are flown in.


Suttle kicked off the presentation by giving the court an overview of Grand Prix racing — cars can go from zero to 100 and back down to zero in six seconds – and gave each commissioner a copy of “Formula One Racing for Dummies.”


The economic impact would be great, he told the court. Not only would it draw Grand Prix enthusiasts from around the globe to shop in local stores, eat at local restaurants and stay at local hotels, but also it would create jobs.


“Formula One attracts the best and brightest mechanics, engineers, computer scientists, aerospace engineers,” he said. 


Commissioner Ron Davis wanted to know how many sustainable jobs the facility would create.


“It’s hard to say, but all the numbers I’ve seen are in the thousands, and that’s not just temporary,” Suttle said.


After the presentation, Suttle told In Fact Daily he thought the presentation went well.


“This is our first presentation, this is our first introduction about this project. And I anticipated there would be a lot of questions we didn’t have full answers to but we’re going to get them,” he said.


When Judge Sam Biscoe cut short his colleagues’ questions Tuesday afternoon, he indicated that Suttle should plan to return to commissioners court next week. Suttle is a partner at Armbrust and Brown.

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