Austin-based USGP exposed…is that a good thing?

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The planned USGP circuit in Austin Texas has had some light shed on it via the Statesman today. Eric Dexheimer of the Statesman has revealed some detail concerning the grand prix and circuit via papers released recently by City Hall in response to a Statesman open records request.

USGP promoter Tavo Hellmund’s Full Throttle Productions (FTP) had amassed the “sheaf” of documents but maintained that they were not for public consumption as they contained trade secrets. A July 22 ruling saw fit to disagree on the basis of the Texas Public Information Act and released the documents.

The documents themselves were a combination of promotion, estimates and also contained preliminary drawings of the circuit. The drawings and other documents are copyrighted material and need approval by FTP for their release but the Statesman understands, via an FTP spokesman, that the circuit layout contained in the documents were outdated and not appropriate for the news article.

The estimates show an annual revenue of $300M based upon similar metrics by other host cities like Bahrain and Melbourne. FTP had projected 1,500 workers would be employed to construct the track while 1.200 temporary workers would staff the race weekend leaving 40 permanent employed year-round. The estimated cost of the project was placed around $180M which seems light to me.

Perhaps most salient in the article is the planned alternate usage of the circuit. FTP suggested that 300,000 fans will attend the F1 race with another 400,000 fans for other events. These events are to include alternative fuel automobile research, driving schools, “professional motorsports team testing,” police training facilities, music concerts and “high-end auctions.”

There is no reason to believe that FTP couldn’t attract other series and I would suggest that ALMS might be a handy series to host if the track is FIA approved for F1. Perhaps a 24 hour race? One can dream can’t he?

Was the release of the information actually in the public interest? I’m not so sure but in the end, I think pulling at the threads is only exacerbating an already difficult task. Let’s be honest, Mr. Hellmund has bitten off a lot and has some key players to help the balance sheet but continually fielding challenging press inquiries and protecting his intellectual property rights, details and the element of surprise is going to be tough.

The Statesman is certainly doing a yeoman’s job of staying on top of the activity in their own backyard and a special thanks to Dave D. at the Statesman for his kindness to F1B. The Statesman can argue, as is right to do so, that the development does impact the citizens of Austin and they have a right to know the details. Hellmund on the other hand needs to be unencumbered by the prying eyes of the press and public on things that have no impact on the citizens but do qualify as intellectual property and are not part of the public domain as a private corporation.

My suggestion is to have a special envoy to the press that deals with a systematic flow of pertinent information that is of a civil nature and a gatekeeper that manages the press according to the private firm and equity partners goals. Not one person involved wants to be combative to the fans or press but until the project has matured to a point of public offering and promotion, it should remain in the company’s boardroom and not the press room.

Scoop is scoop however and digging through FTP’s footnotes and agenda makes for a good story. Mr. Dexheimer, by my estimation, is not attempting a drive-by shooting here. He is looking for information germane to the citizens of Austin as it applies to their daily lives and how this facility may impact them. A noble charter and that is where a press officer for FTP would be most handy now. Just my opinion. I want to know but there are things I don’t want to know until FTP is ready for prime time. Premature information has had ill effect on other proposed F1 circuits such as Korea and Abu Dhabi and I would like to keep the USGP on the straight line for success without derailing it over with speculation.

At the end of the day, the balance sheet is none of our business but the bathroom locations and sewer lines are most certainly the business of local residents. I think the Statesman can bring insightful stories about the circuit while FTP can get on with building a circuit. Hellmund has a big task. Not just building a circuit but building an interest in F1 and we all know that is foreboding when it comes to the picky Americans and their racing. If 300,000 people are going to assault Austin, the people need to know some of the details. If 300,000 people are expected, then Hellmund needs to know that the local resident and press are not fighting him every step of the way. A symbiotic relationship should exist and a press officer for FTP would be a good way to build it.

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