Travis County is less than six months away from hosting the 2012 United States Grand Prix, a major event in the sport of Formula One racing.
Roughly 120,000 people are expected to travel down Del Valle’s country roads Nov. 18 en route to the new Circuit of The Americas (COTA) event center. It will be the new home of the Grand Prix for the next 10 years.
COTA and the county plan to strengthen the existing roadways and develop a traffic plan to avoid miles of gridlock.
Both groups, as well as City of Austin and state officials, have said F1 will have a greater economic impact than the Super Bowl.
Indianapolis has hosted both F1 and this year’s Super Bowl.
Chris Gahl, Indianapolis Convention and Visitor Association spokesman, said the Super Bowl was expected to generate $155 million in direct and indirect spending; The Indianapolis 500 generates $337 million annually.
As race day gets closer, many residents and local officials are seeing the early signs of just how significant that impact will be. One gauge is lodging availability. Hotels and private vacation rentals, coordinated through websites such as Austin’s HomeAway, are reporting bookings months ahead of race day.
“The fact that we are seeing nearly 40 percent of our inventory already booked for the Nov. 18 weekend [as of late April] speaks to the anticipated traffic from the F1 race and the benefit of having additional accommodations when most hotel rooms are expected to be full,” HomeAway Vice President Jon Gray said.
On April 17, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted 3–2 to share the cost of road renovations with F1. Commissioners Karen Huber and Sarah Eckhardt opposed. Eckhardt said the vote was a reversal of the county’s previous position.
Travis County plans to work on three Del Valle thoroughfares: McAngus, Elroy and Kellam roads.
Before the race, the county will reconstruct part of McAngus and Elroy roads, said Steve Manilla, executive director of Travis County’s Transportation and Natural Resources Department.
“We’re going to reconstruct the pavement,” he said of McAngus Road. “So that means we would obliterate it, add mixtures to strengthen it, and put it right back down on the surface.”
Travis County also plans to pay the full cost to connect Kellam Road to nearby Pierce Lane to create another path for traffic.
After the November race, COTA and the county will share costs to widen Elroy Road to four lanes from McAngus Road to the COTA driveway.
A draft COTA traffic plan states that only visitors with parking passes may park in one of COTA’s 17,000 parking spaces. Permits will be issued no later than four weeks before the event.
County traffic program manager David Greear said a typical road can handle 700–1,000 cars per hour per lane.
Visitors without parking permits must take a shuttle, a taxi, limousine or chartered bus.
Greear said about 500 shuttles will be used to move about 80,000 people.
The draft plan lists two park-and-ride locations: The Travis County Exposition Center and Waterloo Park on 15th Street.
County officials are working on a 10.5-mile bike path from downtown Austin to a shuttle stop close to the site. Bicycles will not be allowed on COTA property for safety reasons.
COTA officials estimate that the facility will have a $300 million impact on the local and regional economy each year for the next 10 years.
COTA spokeswoman Ali Putnam said COTA will create approximately 300 full-time jobs and 1,700 construction jobs. The track will hire more than 3,000 seasonal/event-specific employees.
The track’s developers are investing about $400 million into the 1,000-acre site.
Aside from hosting the Grand Prix, the site may also host other motorsports events, six to 10 concerts a year and business functions such as product launches.
Adriana Cruz, Austin Chamber of Commerce vice president of global recruitment and retention, said a sporting event of F1’s size will also produce ripple effects such as restaurants hiring more employees to handle crowds.
Margaret Gomez, Travis County Precinct 4 commissioner, has said that she believes Precinct 4 will become an entertainment hub.
Hotel space will be in high demand during major events at COTA. Recently, the JW Marriott Austin hotel announced it would add 1,200 rooms to the block of Second and Third streets and Brazos Street and Congress Avenue.
Less tangibly, F1 raises Austin’s profile on the international stage, Cruz said.
“[Foreign businesspeople] are not familiar with the middle of the country as a place to do business. Now, Austin is suddenly on their radar,” she said.
Cruz said Travis County has seen increased interest from automotive technology companies eager to set up shop near the track.
“Having a facility like COTA makes Austin one of the new centers for automotive technology—smarter, cleaner cars, new batteries and all of the new developments happening right now,” she said.
Anna Bowlin, Travis County development services division director, said no major business developments have started near the track yet.
The United States has not hosted an F1 event since the sport left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2007. Gahl said F1 met Indianapolis’ expectations of generating $100 million–$115 million per year.
“We did not commission a post-event economic study, but we feel pretty comfortable saying [it met expectations],” he said. “That estimate was a very conservative look as well.”