COTA Moves Forward Despite Lawsuit
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
A multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed by original event promoter Tavo Hellmund hasn’t slowed construction at Circuit of The Americas, the Austin, Texas, facility scheduled to play host to its inaugural Formula One United States Grand Prix in November.
Significant progress on the medical and media buildings was reported by an official with Austin Commercial during the second conference call update of 2012 last week, a little over two weeks after Hellmund filed a lawsuit seeking to regain control of the project in southeast Travis County.
Hellmund, managing partner of Full Throttle Productions, LP, was ousted from his post as chairman of F1 United States in September as event investors scrambled to meet a $23-million obligation to Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. Hellmund, whose longtime family ties to Ecclestone helped him secure a 10-year contract with the sanctioning FIA, reportedly is seeking an $18-million buyout he claims was agreed upon for his share of the company on Sept. 29.
The suit specifically names investors Red McCombs, legendary Texas businessman and long-standing member of “Forbes” magazine’s 400 richest Americans, and Robert A. “Bobby” Epstein, founder and managing general partner of Prophet Capital Management.
From Hellmund’s lawsuit: “With the relief requested herein – namely, access to the Company’s books and records and declaration that he cannot be removed as a manager – Hellmund hopes to steer the now-teetering Circuit back on-track and determine how best to proceed, if at all, to acquire Epstein’s remaining interest in the company.”
COTA’s response in a statement: “This is just a latest step in a pattern of behavior. Mr. Hellmund uses negative press to try and create an advantage for himself at every turn. The fact is, he has been found to be in breach of contract by Formula 1 and he has not fulfilled his agreements with Circuit of The Americas. Our focus remains positive. We are creating the most incredible entertainment and racing venue in the world, construction is on schedule and seat license and suite sales are very strong.”
Two rounds of the 2012 FIA Formula One World Championship already are in the books, with former World Driving Champions Jenson Button (Australia) and Fernando Alonso (Malaysia) having scored victories for McLaren/Mercedes and Scuderia Ferrari, respectively, over consecutive weekends. The inaugural USGP weekend at the $300-million Texas facility is scheduled for Nov. 16-18.
More than 550 workers reportedly are operating on a six-days-a-week schedule at the site. Scott Kahler, senior superintendent for general contractor Austin Commercial, said that since the first construction update on Feb. 9 the roof of the medical building has been completed. The media building structure also is complete, with interior work to start soon.
Kahler said the first steel has started going up for the main grandstand that will seat between 8,000 to 9,000 fans. Kahler said approximately 270 tons of steel has been installed for a structure that will sit on a wall about eight feet above the track at the start/finish line. Seats in the track’s PSL (Personal Seat License) program will be featured in that grandstand.
“They got started on March 12,” Kahler said. “We expect to have framing complete this summer on the main structure. That’s going quite nicely.”
While field excavation and grading work is continuing in front of the grand plaza observation tower and infrastructure around the track, Kahler had no update on the actual racing surface designed by Hermann Tilke of Germany. Kahler estimated last month that 85 percent of the 3.4-mile, 20-turn layout had been excavated, with the last 15 percent “a deep excavation where we’ve got to cut in and sculpt-in the track.” COTA’s organizers are obligated to have the facility approved by FIA officials 60 days before the event.
A public relations spokesperson could not provide numbers on either tickets ordered or sold to-date.
Meanwhile, more than 30 community leaders from Central Texas have joined to serve as the Circuit Events Host Committee (CEHC) in preparation for the race. The CEHC will serve as an extension of Circuit of The Americas in the local community and as the regional ambassador organization to incoming fans, guests and corporations.
“The committee is made up of a variety of leaders, from CEOs and heads of businesses and nonprofits, to leaders in the arts and entertainment industries,” said Sandy West, executive director of the committee. “Development of the CEHC is important in promoting the experience for incoming fans, guests, and companies and reflects the uniqueness of Austin, the spirit of Texas and what makes COTA a world-class venue.”
A key task of the committee will be creation of promotional events leading up to Race Week. These events will be designed to showcase some of the elements and attractions associated and aligned with Formula 1, including music, fashion, technology and celebrity involvement.
“With more than 100,000 fans and hundreds of broadcasters, journalists and photographers from around the world traveling to Austin in November, preparation is key,” said Bob Lander, president/CEO of the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau and member of CEHC. “This group represents some of the most influential leaders that are dedicated to making the 2012 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix a success, while highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit and inclusive environment of our great city.”
Circuit of The Americas will be the first purpose-built grand prix facility in the United States, designed for all classes of racing from motor power to human power. COTA’s master plan features a variety of permanent structures designed for business, education, entertainment and race use. Its signature element will be a 3.4-mile circuit with capacity for 120,000 fans. Construction began early in 2011 on COTA, located 20 miles southeast of downtown Austin on a 970-acre site two miles from Austin Bergstrom International Airport.
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