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Oklahoma City Council considers grand prix

A American Le Mans Grand Prix race in Oklahoma City would require taxpayers to front $6.9 million for capital expenses that would partially be recovered through a $1.3 million annual fee paid by the promoters with the remainder coming from an anticipated increase in sales tax revenues.
BY STEVE LACKMEYER Published: August 28, 2010

Anderson said Long Beach may not be the best reference for Oklahoma City.

"Long Beach started on the periphery of the city, along the coast, in a very blighted area," Anderson said. "And there has been a lot of development along there in the past 36 years it's been very successful."

In comparison, Anderson sees downtown Oklahoma City as an area already established with no history of racing on its streets.

"Obviously Long Beach has a long history of success," Anderson said. "I suspect they'll be there as long as they want to be. We will have to outperform the track record of street circuit races that, historically, in these other cities, didn't last."

Anderson said Lund and Ward need to be "looking long term" to be financially successful."

"Hopefully they've got their eye on the ball for long-term success of the race which is in line with our objective," Anderson said. "If everyone is looking long-term, then everyone comes out OK."

Ward said he is not worried about the failure rate of past street courses or the prospects for success locally.

"The series is moving in a new direction with street races," Ward said. "It's typically an endurance-based race. So historically, it's difficult to do an endurance race on street courses."

Ward said he is working with the series sponsors to de-emphasize endurance racing for the Oklahoma City race.

Ward added the proposed annual $1.3 million fees paid to the city go beyond any commitment made in other communities with street racing and will ensure the city recaptures its $6.9 million in 10 years.

Ward agreed with Lund the race will be successful the first year — and discounted any chance the event could be discontinued within a few years, leaving the city with an unpaid bill.

"You will have all of your hotels full, you will have people eating in restaurants," Ward said. "There is a risk and reward to any situation anyone enters into. I believe the reward side outweighs the risk side a lot.... Brad and I are both local guys. We want what's best for the city. We want to see the city grow. And we believe this is the next step in becoming a big league city."

Cornett's take

Mayor Mick Cornett said he began envisioning a Grand Prix race for the city five years ago and introduced Ward to Lund after Ward expressed an interest in bringing racing to Oklahoma City.

Cornett acknowledged the investment won't be an easy sell in the current economy but added it represents a less expensive avenue to bring racing to the city in contrast to spending "hundreds of millions" on a permanent stadium.

"The risk needs to be addressed at city council on Tuesday," Cornett said. "The question is, what does it take to get these huge events? I have a lot of confidence in Trent and Brad. And I know the Ward family is as solid as it gets."

Race could affect Project 180

Bricktown was the original site targeted to host an American Le Mans Grand Prix when the proposal was first announced in March. That option was eliminated when consultants advised the railroad viaduct bridges at Main and Reno are too narrow for the cars to pass through with barriers installed.

Organizers say a course won't be determined until after a letter of intent is approved by the city council (a vote is set for Tuesday). Brad Lund, chief operating officer of OKC Grand Prix LLC, said he hopes the downtown central business district might be a viable option. The same area is targeted for extensive street and sidewalk reconstruction as part of the $140 million Project 180.

A report by the city's special projects manager, Tom Anderson, advises city leaders may have to decide between Project 180 and the race as part of their deliberation. The course would likely require elimination of medians along E.K. Gaylord between Reno and NW 4 and Robinson between Reno and Robert S. Kerr. Such medians were strongly recommended as a means to make downtown friendlier for pedestrians in a report compiled last year by consultant Jeff Speck.

"As OKC Grand Prix LLC desires to conduct its race within the Project 180 area, certain conflicts and differing priorities emerge," Anderson wrote. "Ultimately, some of these may require a policy decision as to whether existing plans for Project 180 are more or less of a priority than hosting an Oklahoma City Grand Prix."

Former Mayor Ron Norick, who has more than 20 years of experience in racing, including ownership of a NASCAR team, is among those concerned that city leaders accurately consider how the race will damage downtown streets.

"I think it's going to be very tough to do it downtown," Norick said. "The capital requirements to improve the streets not only for safety, but for substructure, are high. Those cars have so much torque. Normal asphalt and concrete will not withstand the torque of the cars."

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