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County moves toward financial agreement with F1 racetrack

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 by Michael Kanin

In a split vote, Travis County Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve initial work on a set of road construction agreements between the county and the backers of the Circuit of the Americas racetrack project. Commissioners Sarah Eckhardt and Karen Huber dissented. The exact terms of the agreements, including how much Travis County taxpayers will contribute to road improvements that are attached to the deal, have yet to be completed.

 

Travis officials and Circuit of the Americas representatives had previously agreed that the track would be financially responsible for the road construction.

 

“For the last two years we’ve maintained that F1 should pay its own freight with regard to its load on the roads immediately adjacent to its property,” Eckhardt said. “Today, by this motion, we do a 180, and now agree to pick up part of the tab for F1.”

 

Commissioner Margaret Gomez – whose Precinct 4 will host the track and the Formula 1 event that will come with it – defended any appearance of a philosophical turn. “If there’s been a turnaround on my part, it certainly has been that I’m not in denial about what (race) traffic is going to do to that part of Travis County,” she said.

 

“There is no doubt in my mind now that Precinct 4 is going to be an entertainment hub,” Gomez continued. “You can focus on F1 if you want to, but there are going to be other entertainment venues that will come to Precinct 4.”

 

Before their Travis County proposal, Formula 1 race organizers and investors in the Circuit of the Americas racetrack sought economic incentives from the State of Texas and the City of Austin. Though Texas Comptroller Susan Combs initially awarded the Formula 1 event money from the State’s major event fund, her office later decided to not release any of the dollars until after the race’s economic contributions could be verified. The City of Austin signed off on economic incentives but the Council arranged to have race investors pick up that tab, which amounts to $4 million a year for 10 years (See In Fact Daily, June 17, 2011).

 

Last week, Commissioners sought more information from Circuit of the Americas operators about an economic development agreement that would have provided the framework for a similar switch in fiscal responsibilities (See In Fact Daily, April 11, 2012). Though Commissioners declined to take action on that specific item, their discussion illustrated the pending shift in which entity will bear the cost burden for the roads.

 

The head of the county’s Transportation and Natural Resources division, Steve Manilla, told In Fact Daily that the exact terms of the deal would come back before Commissioners for approval. The work in question would dramatically improve access to the racetrack for emergency vehicles and race fans. It would also seem to help alleviate a major source of traffic congestion.

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