Plot southeast of Austin no longer set for housing
Organizers of the proposed Austin Formula One auto race plan to build the track on about 900 acres near Elroy in southeastern Travis County, according to one of the major landowners involved.
The organizers have called a news conference for 10 a.m. today to announce the site, a key financial backer and other details. The press event will include Tavo Hellmund, who has been working for more than two years to bring the high-profile race to Austin.
Most of the land was previously planned for a residential subdivision called Wandering Creek. It is land with rolling hills and a small lake, north of FM 812, south and west of Elroy Road and east of Texas 130.
“I’m elated and hope this all comes to fruition,” Bobby Epstein, an investor in Wandering Creek, said Monday. “I’m highly optimistic that all the moving
Continued from A1 parts will come together” in time for the inaugural Austin race in 2012.
Hellmund has signed a contract with the Formula One Group to bring a U.S. Grand Prix to Austin for 10 years.
“I’m really excited about it, more as a Texan and an Austinite than a racing fan,” Epstein added. “It would really make a statement for Austin. I think it’s really going to be a big event for us.”
The Statesman reported in June that Wandering Creek was a possible site for the racetrack.
The location of the track has been a topic of intense speculation since May, when Formula One Group CEO Bernie Ecclestone announced plans for a race in Austin.
Wandering Creek has about 650 acres, and organizers have recently secured adjacent acreage, including land with more frontage on FM 812 and small parcels with additional access to Elroy Road, according to a source close to the event who could not be identified because he was not authorized to speak ahead of today’s press conference.
Organizers kept the site secret, even from local officials, until the land was secured and private investors were lined up.
Cathy Olive, president of the Elroy Preservation Association, a neighborhood group, said she and other board members were scheduled to meet Monday night with a representative of the race organizers, presumably to provide a heads-up before this morning’s conference.
She and some other local residents opposed the original Wandering Creek plans, which called for 1,800 homes on small lots. She said she and “every single solitary person I have talked to” don’t want the track in their area, but all feel it would be preferable to dense residential development.
“We all feel like it would be the lesser of two evils,” Olive said. “Are we excited about it? No. But it’s better than 2,000 teeny-tiny tract houses.”
Epstein, general partner of Prophet Capital Management Ltd., a private investment firm, said he would be interested in being an investor in the F1 deal.
“Even the people who think it’s good are underestimating how great this event could be,” Epstein said. “I think economically it would be a tremendous thing for Austin.”
Epstein said Kam Kronenberg, a partner in Wandering Creek, initially approached him about buying the land. Epstein said the 2007 purchase was his first investment in real estate. He said he liked the property for several reasons, including that it was in the path of Austin’s growth and the Texas 130 tollway.
But the opposition from Elroy residents to the subdivision plan was something “we certainly didn’t know” when they bought the property, Epstein said.
At a later point, Epstein said, Kronenberg approached him with the Formula One deal, saying promoters were eyeing Wandering Creek as one of several potential sites.
“Obviously as a landowner, I think it’s incredibly lucky that this would have been selected as the site, as an outcome that was completely unforeseeable when it was purchased as a residential development,” he said.
F1 races have had an uneven history in the U.S. But Epstein said he thinks having a dedicated, built-from-scratch course, where fans know the race will be held year after year, combined with Texas hospitality, will be the ticket to success in Austin.
Additionally, he said, the investor group is “experienced, credible and significantly solid,” although he would not disclose any names.
Hellmund faces a tight schedule to get the track built. Wandering Creek’s owners already have submitted applications to extend water and wastewater treatment services to the land.
Austin and Travis County have set up a joint task force to handle permit requests, once the site is disclosed.
Promoters hope to have permits in place from the city and county to start grading work on the site in December and remain confident they can have a track open in time.
State officials have committed to spend up to $250 million over 10 years to support the race. The money would come from the Texas Major Events Trust Fund, which uses sales and other taxes generated by major events to attract large events to the state.
Bobby Epstein predicts a positive impact from an F1 track.