In a wide-ranging post-event evaluation released late Wednesday, Austin city officials concluded that the inaugural Formula One race weekend last November was a “resounding success” and that “Austin pulled it off with style.”
The United States Grand Prix, held at the new Circuit of the Americas, was the first Formula One race staged in the U.S. in five years and was the largest sporting event in Austin’s history with 265,499 visitors to the track Nov. 17-19.
The report authors cautioned that this is not an economic impact study, but their analysis does provide some interesting and concrete numbers that point out winners, losers and unexpected beneficiaries of the race. The report evaluates the effectiveness of planning and performance and makes suggestions for future races, including the widening of roads around the track.
The report says feedback solicited from visitors to Austin was generally positive, except for complaints about the price of accommodations. Austin area hotels, which have about 30,000 rooms, made about $22 million more in room revenues during Austin’s first F1 week than they did in the same week in the previous year, and hotel occupancy tax for the fourth quarter was about $3.5 million more than the previous year. Year-over-year, mixed beverage and car rental taxes were also up for the quarter by 10 and 22 percent respectively.
Yet not all businesses showed gains. The city received survey responses from 231 small business owners. Forty-six percent said business during F1 week was worse than they had expected, while 43 percent said that business, particularly among local customers, was actually slower than in 2011.
Twenty-five percent of the businesses, however, reported more customers, particularly those that were not local, and 19 percent said that business turned out to be better than expected. Many of the businesses said they hired extra help and/or stayed open additional hours during race week.
Worries about transportation and parking may have kept some local customers away and that also appears to be the case with Fan Fest, a downtown festival.
The report concluded, “Although visitors appeared to enjoy the Fan Fest held in the Warehouse District, it was not well attended by local residents, presumably because of the fear of heavy traffic and the lack of parking. Neither of these conditions proved problematic.”
But waste recycling from Fan Fest was listed as an area that needed to be improved. At the circuit itself, about 134 tons of waste (80 percent) was sent to landfills. And 4.7 tons of unused food was donated to the Capital Area Food Bank.
Race organizers paid the city about $111,000 to cover medical, fire and police services and overtime. Four city departments also reported receiving nearly $200,000 in race week permit fees and facility revenues.
On the other side of the ledger, the city departments detailed about $891,000 in unreimbursed costs associated with hosting the grand prix. Nearly two-thirds of these expenses were for overtime in more than a dozen departments. Most of the costs — $532,000 — were reported by the airport.
Various transportation services put up some huge numbers around the race event. Austin-Bergstrom had a record 21,725 out-bound passengers the Monday after the race. Shuttle buses from downtown and the Travis County Exposition Center handled 98,363 passengers while various helicopters made 2,546 trips, sparking 114 complaints, mostly about noise.
Looking forward to the second F1 race next November, Travis County officials recommended adding pedestrian and bike lanes and widening some roads around the track. Prior to the race it was declared there were would be no walking to the circuit from the parking lots that sprang up on nearby ranches, but that was soon ignored, a pattern which has continued with other races at the circuit.
Not all of the effects of the race were easily quantified. The report observed, “Perhaps one of the biggest impacts of the F1 USGP was the effect on the social and cultural nature of Austin. At the onset, there was a perception that Formula One racing was restricted to the elite, which seemed a foreign fit to Austin’s nature.”
The report warned that there would be further, and different challenges in years ahead beginning this year when Formula One and University of Texas football are both in town on the same weekend.