The Austin Chronicle

CELOC Clock Ticks Toward F1 Race

By Richard Whittaker, July 22, 2011, News

What's a CELOC? That's been the question puzzling Formula One enthusiasts and detractors alike, and it was answered July 16 when the Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee held its first public meeting in the offices of Armbrust & Brown.

Board member and Circuit of the Americas project attorney Wayne Hollingsworth described CELOC as "a facilitator and a conduit" for the city's role in applying for the state's Major Events Trust Fund. It's become a slightly baroque process. The management at the new Circuit of the Americas will provide an estimated $4 million to the comptroller's office, which will then release as much as $25 million for the race hosting fee charged by Formula One Management. While none of that money will pass through city accounts or CELOC's coffers, the committee will serve as the City Council's designee in that process. During the meeting, the board selected Hollingsworth to complete contract negotiations with City Manager Marc Ott, while Hollingsworth and Anne Smalling, president of holding company HM Inter­national, will finalize the event support contract with F1 management.

This was CELOC's first public meeting but not its first meeting. The unpaid five-member board gathered on June 6 and June 25 for administrative discussions. The first public meeting had been scheduled for July 11, and CELOC's attorneys believed they could post public notice of the meeting at City Hall as they had the first two meetings. On the deadline to post notice for the meeting, city legal informed them that they could not use City Hall notice boards after all. It was too late to re-post and comply with the state's 72-hour-notice rule for public meetings, so CELOC rescheduled and posted the new date at the county Commissioners Court. Why the snafu? Normally, the city works from a master list of about 200 boards, commissions, and city bodies. On review, city legal decided that since CELOC was not on that master list, it was not eligible to post at City Hall. "CELOC is kind of a new beast," said city public information officer Samantha Park, and staff are still working out how it will interact with the city. Project attorney Richard Suttle said he was informed that his clients could request inclusion on the master list. Since the committee will be adding a nonvoting city appointee to its membership, that request seems likely. In the meantime, they will continue to post meeting notices at the county Commissioners Court.

That's the kind of hiccup the project can ill afford; the last two months have shown how much work is left to do if the inaugural F1 race is to be on June 17, 2012. Just before the end of June, the project received its all-important "conditional letter of map revision" from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which not only authorizes construction while floodplain maps are redrawn but also allows the project to get back the $921,000 surety filed with the county (see "Naked City," Dec. 17, 2010). It also cleared the way last week for the county to approve of the first round of permits for above-ground construction. Project management is also contributing to the state's construction of a turn lane on FM 812 (the site's southern access) and is studying what upgrades will be required on Elroy Road to the north.

Meanwhile, on June 30, track management confirmed that Australia-based, ethanol-powered V8 Supercars is the third racing series to sign up for the site, joining F1 and MotoGP. And with Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett signed to appear on the new purpose-built music stage, they even have the first two live music performers booked.

Still, F1 remains the center of attention. Observers have noted that the June 2012 date is provisional and questioned how this could affect the Major Events Trust Fund application. But it's highly unlikely the Fédéra­tion Internationale de l'Auto­mobile – the sport's governing body – will switch that date for next year; the 20-date global tour already works around the European winter and the Asian monsoon season.

Both track management and City Council have raised concerns about the summer date – not least how the increased traffic to and from the site during race weekends might impact the city's ozone levels. The environmental agreement struck between the city and the circuit last month is designed to reduce those emissions with increased public transportation. Public Citizen's Texas director Tom "Smitty" Smith said he's concerned that there are not enough enforceable terms, but Council Member Chris Riley, who negotiated the deal, called its terms "a floor and not a ceiling."

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