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Split Council approves enhanced Formula One agreement

Thursday, June 30, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

It was, once again, standing-room only in chambers as City Council deliberated whether to endorse Formula One for the last time. The council voted 5-2 Wednesday to sign on as an endorsing municipality, with Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo casting votes in opposition.


In this latest draft of the agreements that will bring Formula One to Austin, the city leveraged its position to include MBE/WBE stipulations and extensive environmental terms spearheaded by Council Member Chris Riley, who received the thanks of a number of people for his efforts.


The environmental requirements are lengthy, and include provisions for everything from transportation plans to tree planting, LEED certification and participation in Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program. Additionally, the Circuit of the Americas has agreed to raise $5 million in the next year and a half for on-site green technology research and development.


Austin Technology Incubator and UT’s School of Engineering have both expressed interest in the on-site green technology program.


“We’re very appreciative of the Council’s support, and the city’s partnership going forward. There’s no question in my mind that we’re going to have the greenest sports entertainment facility in the country, if not the world,” said Steve Sexton, president of the Circuit of the Americas.


Still, not everyone was happy with the new terms. Members of the public expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of an environmental impact study, the fact that the first scheduled race day is in June, a time when the city struggles to meet ozone standards even without the event, and worried that events at the track could push the city into a costly non-attainment status.


Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, took part in the environmental negotiations with Formula One, but ultimately did not support the agreement.


“If Austin wants to be the leader in sustainability around the nation, they failed. This puts us right in the middle of the pack,” Smith told In Fact Daily. “Instead of taking the opportunity for a really, truly world-class facility, environmentally, time after time, they opted for halfway measures…. And those halfway measures don’t really transform our building stock in the city, and don’t really live up to the world’s vision of Austin that Austin would like the world to have.”


“They sold out too cheaply,” said Smith.


Susan Moffat, who has been a constant, vocal opponent of Formula One since the hearings began, shared Smith’s lamentations. Moffat told In Fact Daily, “It hurts me that they had all the negotiating power and they just squandered it; I don’t understand that.” Moffat did express relief that the deal was better than it was last week.


For his part, Riley was satisfied with the new environmental standards, which were completely non-existent even a month ago.


Riley spoke to In Fact Daily following the Council meeting. “It was a long, arduous process involving many hours of negotiations. Of course we would have liked to get more on a number of things, but that’s true of any negotiation. Overall, I’m satisfied that this is the best that we could do.”


Mayor Lee Leffingwell held the environmental measures up as a “gold standard.” “We would not be able to get these environmental standards unless we become the sponsor of this event… This control is all given to us in return for our sponsorship and taking absolutely no financial risk,” said Leffingwell.


Cole also voiced her strong support, emphasizing what the deal could do for the city. “No one has suggested that the city will not receive additional revenue from a number of sources…We need that money, and we need it for all types of things that are consistent with our values, from affordable housing to open space to social service programs. So I think we would be remiss to not take a step to move the needle in the direction of obtaining these funds,” said Cole.


Tovo, who opposed F1 in her recent campaign, was confident in her vote against the endorsement.


“It was the right decision, for me,” said Tovo, who told In Fact Daily that it was a sounder agreement than was initially proposed.


“The deal has evolved, and I think it’s a better deal. It’s certainly a much better deal for the people of Austin, because we’re not going to have city money in the project,” said Tovo. “I guess I really felt the fundamental question was about that $25 million. I mean, it’s still public money. We’re citizens of Texas, and it’s our sales tax revenue too and we are, as the city, agreeing to a deal that will unlock $25 million dollars that could be utilized somewhere else.”

Tovo was referring to money from the state’s Major Events Fund.

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