On Nov. 16–18, Circuit of The Americas plans to host a three-day street festival, Austin Fan Fest, in the Warehouse District between Second and Fifth streets.
Representatives from Warehouse District businesses claimed the festival was put together without their input and said they were worried about how they will be able to conduct business before, during and after the event.
On Oct. 16, more than 40 district business leaders met with COTA and coordinating company Music & Events Group to discuss concerns. Business leaders and COTA both reported that the meeting went well and planned to meet again as Fan Fest approaches.
“I do want to say that as soon as MEG and COTA realized that everyone in the Warehouse District had concerns, they have been incredibly responsive, open to coming up with solutions and listening to concerns,” said Kim Rector, event sales and marketing manager for Fado Irish Pub and Restaurant.
“I believe that all of us have our positive caps on now, and we're working together in the vision of how do we make the best of this,” said David Tripoli, operating partner of Truluck's Restaurant Group. “We've also agreed that afterward, we will do a recap of what went well, what did not go well and what we could improve. Is this something that we should do again next year [in the district] or out at the track?”
Austin Fan Fest basics
Austin Fan Fest, presented by Mobil 1, is scheduled to take place Nov. 16 from 6 p.m.-2 a.m. and Nov. 17 and 18 from 10 a.m.-2 a.m.
Paul Thornton, COTA director of events and entertainment, said that major Formula One sponsors, such as Pirelli, would have a presence at Fan Fest. He said there will be race cars on display, driving simulators and family-friendly entertainment.
Live music will be a key element of Fan Fest. Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Flo Rida, Enrique Iglesias, Juanes and Lupe Fiasco are scheduled to perform.
Preparations for Fan Fest come at a time when the Warehouse District is attempting to rebound after sidewalk construction has limited access to its businesses, Rector said.
Businesses reported that they had met with MEG representatives prior to Oct. 16.
“They started visiting businesses and saying, 'This is what we're doing. These are the roads we are blocking off.' We all had the same reaction—'Wait a minute. Whenever we do an event, we get everybody to sign off and say yes.' Nobody asked us. This could cannibalize sales for us,” Rector said.
Tripoli said the plan called for five days of street closures including time for setup and breakdown.
“We are an entertainment district. We provide food, beverages and entertainment,” Tripoli said. “They were saying how they are going to close the street and provide out in the street in front of our businesses food, beverages and entertainment. It is very hard not to look at it as competition.”
District businesses were concerned that Fan Fest's street closures would hamper vendors that supply businesses, access for customers and parking for employees.
Street closures would affect when deliveries could happen, and area businesses balked, Rector said.
“We have 15-plus businesses in the Warehouse District and all different types of vendors who service our businesses,” Rector said. “It's not just food, beer and liquor. We have paper goods and linen deliveries. Trucks are in and out of our alleys all day. In our little block alone, we have five or six [business] concepts. Our back alley is constantly in use.”
“I get fresh delivery of stone crab,” Tripoli said. “The plane takes off from Naples, Fla., in the morning and gets here at around 2–3 p.m. I don't get to pick that plane schedule.”
Valet services in the area would be forced to shut down during the street festival, Tripoli said.
He added that bars were concerned that the street festival's late hours may discourage patrons from visiting them.
“If perhaps [Fan Fest] shut down at 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m., people would go into the bar and still spend money,” he said.
Tripoli said Thornton, COTA Events Coordinator Ridge Rees, and Meghan Beavin and Kara Oppermann from MEG attended the Oct. 16 meeting.
Thornton praised the meeting as positive and said that solutions are being researched.
Tripoli said the district left the meeting with key takeaways from COTA, including:
1. The circuit was looking into finding employee parking near the district
2. COTA would research working with the City of Austin and valets to possibly relocate valet services during the street festival for customers
3. COTA would work with vendors to coordinate deliveries
Michael Girard, owner of Speakeasy, TenOak and Imperia, said that the general consensus among district business owners is a mix of excitement and nervousness at the first-time event.
“I think we're happy that it's going to be in the Warehouse District. I think it's the perfect place for it, and I'm looking forward to it,” he said.
Girard added that when the organizers created the event, they did not talk to enough people in the district, but that COTA and MEG were “working hard to make up ground” now.
“I think it's going to be a fantastic event,” he said. “Great for Austin, great for the Warehouse District. I understand that in the first year, there are going to be some small issues that pop up, but those can be fixed in year two. With an event of this stature, those will be inevitable.”