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Council members still show concerns over Formula 1 funding plan

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council Members still appeared to be wrestling with signing on as the endorsing municipality for the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack at Tuesday’s work session, despite the fact that investors have freed Austin from direct financial obligation in the enterprise. Council Member Chris Riley has taken the lead on one area unrelated to money—trying to make the track more palatable to environmentalists.


Last week, at the urging of Council Members Bill Spelman and Sheryl Cole in particular, racetrack investors agreed to fund the local contribution—estimated at $4 million per year for 10 years—so that Austin can apply for the state’s Major Events Trust Fund.


If approved, the city will enter into both an interlocal agreement with the state, and an agreement with the Local Organizing Committee. These agreements will create the fund, and authorize the LOC to act on the city’s behalf. The agreement is for 10 years, though it is performance-based and reviewed annually.


“It’s my view that the LOC has a tremendous amount of responsibility to act on our behalf,” said Cole “I don’t have any specific knowledge or concern with any of the appointees, but I don’t like representing to the public that we have even read their resumes…I don’t think that we should have a situation where we have a group of five people that we did not select, that have received no information on, and we’re giving them powers of the city.”


Cole added that this was not something that necessarily needed to be addressed this first year, but perhaps could be considered in the next year.


“This City Council is literally obliging the entire state of Texas for $25 million. That’s what we’re doing when we enter this interlocal agreement,” said Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, who expressed concerns about where funds above the projected $25 million state tax increment would go.


At this point, Austin’s local tax increment will not be put into the fund, nor will the city recoup expenses from it. “We’re not putting anything in, and so we’re not taking anything out,” said Assistant City Attorney Leela Fireside. Expenses incurred by the surge in visitors will instead be addressed in the same way as other Austin festivals, like South by Southwest or the ROT Rally.


“I think I’ve got everything from a financial point-of-view that I want,” Spelman told In Fact Daily.


“If the environmental community gets most of what it wants and Chris (Riley) is satisfied then I’m inclined to vote for it. If Chris has significant reservations or I don’t get changes in the contract to make sure the city’s out of it—which Sheryl was working on—it’s wording,” said Spelman “I think the fundamental contract is basically where we want it to be…but the big unanswered question is– is the environmental community going to be happy and that’s the question we have to answer.”


Riley has proposed an environmental term sheet for the facility, co-sponsored by Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez. Though the details have yet to be hammered out, the item will be considered separately on Thursday. A prolonged discussion at the work session revealed at least some of the bullet points that will be included in the sheet, which leverages the city’s consent in a way that might not otherwise be possible for a property outside of city limits.


According to Riley, the term sheet consists of a bullet-pointed list, and includes the following:


  • expectation of carbon neutrality, offset by local efforts, such as tree planting
  • monitors in place to assure attainment of air quality standards
  • minimization of air quality issues through transportation planning (satellite parking, dedicated transit lane)
  • bike access, with showers available on site
  • future buildings to be green buildings
  • parking areas compliant with the city’s commercial landscaping ordinance
  • required Xeriscaping and prairie restoration
  • parking lot shading areas
  • restoration of riparian areas along the creek
  • establishment of a monitoring program for pervious pavement on site
  • participation in Austin Energy’s Green Choice program
  • composting, recycling, and community gardening
  • measures relating to a relationship with the Austin Tech incubator
  • establishment of a single point of contact for collaboration on sustainability issues

“Probably the most significant single one would be to have the Circuit of the Americas designate a single point of contact to collaborate with the city going forward on sustainability measures, because we’re not going to get everything figured out in the next two days,” Riley told In Fact Daily. “But we can ensure that an ongoing relationship is in place.”


“I’d like for this site to be a place where our sustainability officer can give guided tours pointing out all of the sustainability features in place there,” said Riley.

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