AUSTIN (KXAN) - A top Circuit of the Americas official on Tuesday unveiled new details of the Formula One Austin race to KXAN News.
Geoff Moore, chief marketing officer for COA, said the group will try to tap state money again. Also, the timeline for the track's completion is not November, but as early as August – certainly a quickly approaching deadline.
This comes just days after an interview with Texas Comptroller Susan Combs regarding the request for an attorney general opinion into her financial role with the project. At issue – whether Combs overstepped her authority in a May 10, 2010, letter to Formula One officials by using the words "certify" and "full funding" from the state's Major Event Trust Fund.
- Watch the KXAN investigation about Combs' role in the project.
By statute, an application and economic study must be submitted for review before Combs can approve funding. Those applications came more than a year after her letter.
Combs' office has replied to the attorney general request, saying the letter was "merely an effort to indicate broad support." She said COA is welcome to reapply for the money, a possibility she pulled in November until she sees initial economic success after the first race for Nov. 18.
"I wish them well. I hope it works," said Combs, who stated her confidence in complying with the law.
After a Leadership Austin panel on the city's festival and event life, Moore spoke with KXAN News. Here is the interview:
Question: Is everything on track for Nov. 18?
Answer: We have to be ready for the race three months ahead of it to be ready to be inspected. We're probably the only outfit in town that's cheering for the drought to continue. Construction is going great. We've got 600 people out there everyday building the track. Everything looks good right now.
Q: When do you have to do to get ready for that inspection?
A: It will probably be in late August, early September. I don't know the exact date right now, but we have to have the track inspected and all the facilities that are required to have the race. "
Q: Do you need to be completely done by then?
A: All the track-related facilities will. There will still be work going on at the site for the fan comfort areas, but we'll be ready.
Q: The Major Events Trust Fund. You don't have an application on file right now. Is that something you do plan to apply for?
A: Of course.
Q: When can we expect that?
A: We'll be applying after the event's over with our economic study. From a cash flow standpoint, it doesn't really matter. It just matters that we have the event, we're eligible for it, and we apply for it. It doesn't really tie to one specific race.
Q: Is the project going to have enough funding to sustain a 10-year period beyond just this first race, in general?
A: Oh, sure. Absolutely.
Q: Is there a contract already in place for those 10 years?
Q: When will we start to see some of the other event beyond Formula One that will be using that site?
A: When we sign race contracts, we have to wait for their annual schedule to come out, so with V-8 supercars, their 2013 schedule's not come out yet. We're excited to find out when their race is going to happen. As we negotiate with other race series, we have to sign the contracts and wait for their race schedules to come out, as well.
Q: I know there was talk originally about this site being a place for research into renewable fuels. How does that stand right now?
A: We're in talks with a lot of other manufacturers right now, but that's kind of a long lead item that you have to create partnerships with people on research and development for automobile fuels and all sorts of things. We have, when the track is finished, the nicest road course in America, the first F1 custom-built track in the history of the country. As manufacturers come over and see our facility and experience it, we're hopeful that they'll find Austin and our track a wonderful place to grow their business.
Q: In the beginning, there was a lot of talk about educational opportunities for high schools and colleges to have programs and classes out there. How does that look now?
A: We have current programs in place with several universities to give us interns that we can bring into the process and teach them about sports marketing, building facilities, things like that. As the facility is actually opened, those opportunities will expand dramatically.
Q: Back in November when there was the financial hiccup and everything was up in the air with the contract, how did that funding for the sanction just seemingly materialize? Because it wasn't in place at one point. Where did that last-minute funding come from?
A: All during 2011, our partners were going out and talking to every group they could find about investing in the track. Those are kind of long, lead-item discussions to have. In the end, we found people that were excited about doing it, came in, and funded
the project. We're very excited about that.
Q: What's happening with Tavo Hellmund right now? In November, he said he was exiting the partnership. Is he still with the Circuit of the Americas?
A: I have no idea.
Q: What about the partners that still exist? Is there still that internal struggle he talked about or is everyone getting along now?
A: I'm not a partner, but I do know our staff is expanding dramatically. We are getting ready to sell tickets for the event and market the event.
Q: How many fans are you expecting to have?
A: We expect to have 120,000 people on Sunday. And then we hope we get a large percentage of that on Saturday and Friday.
Q: What about the number of employees?
A: Right now, we're hiring ticket sales reps, bringing people on sponsorship, marketing. We'll probably end up with a total staff of about 75 people full-time on an annual basis. Then we'll have maybe 3,000 or 4,000 volunteers on race day.
Q: How many other jobs will be available?
A: There will be thousands of other jobs in food service and customer relations and fan comfort. Maybe 5,000 jobs.
Q: What's the biggest rumor or misunderstanding out there you'd like to clear up?
A: We're going to have our race Nov. 16, 17, 18 of 2012. Our facilities are going to be finished, and the event is going to be spectacular. If you want to be involved, go to CircuitoftheAmericas.com.
Q: There has been a lot of talk recently about Texas Comptroller Susan Combs and her role with this project. By her giving support so early on but without officially giving the money – the May 10, 2010, letter where she wrote "certify" and "full funding" along with supportive letters before and after that time – did that kind of get the ball rolling with getting this project past just being an idea?
A: I think it was difficult to imagine Austin winning the competition to have the F1 event without the state support.
Q: Has there been any communication recently with the comptroller?
A: Unless she wants to buy tickets, I have no reason to talk to her. So if you want to buy tickets, call me.
From the panel discussion:
Q: Why would a community want to have an event like this?
A: F1 is the modern-day space race. When you juxtapose it to Nascar or Indy Car where every competitor has essentially the same car and they're penalized for improving it in order to gain an edge, F1 is the opposite. It's a very Darwinistic race series. If you don't improve your car and invest heavily in research and development and technology to make it perform better, you'll fall out of the race series eventually, because you won't be successful enough. When you look at all the technological improvements that came out of the quest for improving science to go to the moon, a lot of the automotive world improvements that come to us now come from F1. I think F1 is the perfect match for Austin, and I think Austin's the perfect match for F1.
Q: What about transportation and traffic concerns on the race weekend?
A: We hired the same company that did the transportation plan for the North Texas Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is annually one of the largest transportation events in North America. It will soon be the second largest.
Q: What if people want to help sponsor events like this in Austin? Is that something that's open?
A: If you want to be the title sponsor of the F1 event, you have to spend between $8-15 million to buy the type of exposure this event takes out to the TV audience globally. There are sponsorships that are very expensive, and then there are great opportunities if you go to the property with any event in Austin and explain what you want to accomplish. Let them be creative with you, and let them know what the shoe size of your budget is.
Q: Where do you expect fans will come from? Texas? From other countries?
A: We would expect roughly a third to come from the Texas triangle, a third from the United States, and third international – mainly Mexico, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia would be the main countries. There's a lot of national pent-up demand for it, since it hasn't been in America since 2007. Initially, I think we'll have great international and national demand. Then we have to make sure we put on a good event and it grows a local and regional fan base.
Q: What are ticket sales going to be like? Will this thing turn a profit? How much will Texans have to pay?
A: When you're trying to build something great, there is a large investment that takes place. I think that the local, regional, national, and international market as we learn more will determine our pricing. We have a huge facility. Our racetrack is on 350 acres. We own the 800 acres around it. Every homeowner around there is trying to add to the amount of acreage we own, and they're trying to send their grandchildren to Harvard. We have some work to do there to find the right pricing. Our facility in phase one is going to be built for the
F1 event, but then it's going to generate the V8 Super Car race and other road races of many types. We're talking about the economic impact that's going to grow. It's not just the economic impact for F1 is $300 million, there's going to be eventually 10 or 12 events out there a year that all have their own impact. We're under a lot of stress to find the right balance in our business model that allows us to maximize the number of people that we can bring out there. That creates a whole range of price points from the steak house to the quick-serve restaurant type of pricing. The events have to find their balance with their largest possible customer base. That includes various prices across different scales of different types of products to maximize both the experience and the revenue.
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