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

A planned 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.

A letter of intent with OKC Grand Prix LLC is set to be considered Tuesday by the Oklahoma City Council, and contrary to prior reports, Bricktown is being eliminated as a possible host for the race.

Brad Lund, chief operating officer of OKC Grand Prix LLC, predicts the race will be an economic bonanza for the city.

"It's not just a sporting event — it's an event," Lund said. "I've been told 15 percent of spectators will be there because of the car or the driver, the rest for the event as a whole. It has the potential to be among the highest attended sporting events in our state's history. We prefer to under-promise and over-deliver, so we're predicting 83,000 fans over three days. Industry insiders have expressed the number could easily exceed 100,000."

Lund, whose partner is Trent Ward, chief executive officer of OKC Grand Prix LLC, expects the race to be immediately profitable.

Staff analysis

A city staff analysis paints a different picture.

City staff reports indicate the street course being proposed by OKC Grand Prix LLC has a "documented record of poor sustainability."

The report was prepared by the city's special projects manager Tom Anderson, who also engineered negotiations with the NBA's Hornets and Thunder. He warns industry experts advised him the race will lose money for "several years" before it's a success.

"American Le Mans historically is most successful on dedicated race tracks," Anderson wrote in his report. "Temporary street courses demonstrate poor longevity. Of the seven individual cities that have conducted American Le Mans temporary street course races, the average recurrence rate is 1.86 races."

Anderson indicated the only temporary street race in the 2010 American Le Mans series is in Long Beach, Calif., a community that started street races 36 years ago in what was originally a blighted shorefront area where development subsequently sprouted around the event.

Cities that started and halted American Le Mans street races this past decade include Miami, Washington, D.C., Quebec, Houston, Detroit and St. Petersburg, Fla.

When asked about the record of the street races, Lund responded he is not an expert on racing tracks. In an interview with The Oklahoman, Anderson said there are a variety of reasons why street-based American Le Mans races haven't succeeded in other cities.

"The economy sank the race in Detroit; D.C. had an issue with the promoter where they had a lot of complaints; in Houston they had it for two years but it had a poor track design, noise complaints, and it wasn't highly successful," Anderson said. "Miami is a unique example — they did it one year as a street race, then they moved it to a dedicated track facility."

Racing history

Local race promoters organized a visit to Long Beach in April in which Anderson, former Bricktown Association Director Jim Cowan and a small group of business executives watched the 2010 American Le Mans race and visited with the town's merchants.

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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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