Austin residents voice concerns over Formula 1 track

Liz Farmer

The first Formula 1 race in the U.S. is slated to start in 2012 in Austin, but construction on the track and debate over how much taxpayers should put into the project is well under way.

The Austin City Council’s chambers overflowed during their meeting Thursday with people who turned out to give public testimony on a contract that would give race promoters state money. The council delayed a vote on the proposed contract with Formula One World Championship Limited until next Wednesday.

The council discussed two resolutions. One would establish a Major Events Trust Fund for Formula 1, and the other would authorize a committee organized by the race promoters to act on the city’s behalf. The council also examined an environmental impact report for the race.

Many people — including Kirk Becker, who spoke out against the three items — expressed concerns about the haste with which City Council was planning to sign the contract.

“You have yet to make a case to us that this is a good deal,” Becker said. “Y’all are still drafting this contract as we speak. We deserve a chance to digest that and have time to communicate our thoughts and feelings about what that final draft looks like before you vote on it.”

This comes a day after an Austin attorney representing three local residents filed a lawsuit against Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. The suit deals with a letter Combs sent to the race promoters in May of last year guaranteeing funds by July 31 of this year and an annual payment of $25 million.

Attorney Bill Aleshire filed the lawsuit. Aleshire said offering Formula 1 funds won’t attract the company to Austin, which is the only legal reason to offer a subsidy. He also said the comptroller’s promise of funds doesn’t meet the time frame set out in the law because the date the promoters set is unreliable.

“So if you don’t follow the rules to get this money, it’s illegal to spend it,” Aleshire said. “It’s not a tax incentive promised in advance. If they’re already choosing to come here, you’re just giving them money.”

Austin professional race car driver Rodrigo Sanchez said at the city council meeting the addition of Mexican driver Sergio Perez to the Formula 1 championship has created excitement for Latino race fans; a fast-growing demographic in Texas.

“Racing has reached a very high popularity status in Mexico due to Sergio, and since Formula 1 does not have a race in Mexico it will mean that Austin will be the home race for Sergio and the millions of Mexicans who are following Sergio with heart and wallet,” Sanchez said.