Oklahoma City Grand Prix organizers aiming to bring big-league auto racing failed to hurdle an Oklahoma City Council vote on Aug. 31.
Race organizers insisted the 6-2 "no" vote wasn't a deathblow, but admitted it did throw a wrench into their hopes.
"This is, without a question, one of the real shockers of my professional career," said Brad Lund, chief operating officer of OKC Grand Prix.
Lund had previously served as CEO of Express Sports, which owned the Blazers hockey team. Up until the morning of the vote, he said he felt confident the City Council would agree to terms to help finance the race's startup costs. Even with the setback, he still hopes to get a race into OKC in 2011 or 2012. The event would have been part of the American Le Mans Series.
Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman said he didn't like the idea of the race held downtown, especially with the many renewal projects slated to begin soon. Although Lund insisted that promoters would offer several options for racetrack locations, downtown was the primary focus.
Other aspects troubled Bowman about the race, but the initial economic investment was the deal-breaker.
"I guess for me, the bottom line was, even before looking more closely at the risk and how together we could minimize the risk, we were still going to have to put several million dollars up front, which was just out of question," Bowman said.
The proposal came on the heels of a June budget vote forcing city departments to tighten their belts to deal with a shortfall.
"We went through a round of budget pairings with the expectations that all departments would bring in 12-percent cuts," Bowman said. "It was unlike any cuts we'd asked for the city departments to take in anyone's memory."
Bowman said he didn't feel comfortable expecting city departments to trim spending, but then to invest significant financial support into an auto-racing event.
According to a letter of intent, the Oklahoma City Public Property Authority (OCPPA) would have funded $6.9 million in up-front capital expenditures while OKC Grand Prix would have provided OCPPA an annual fee for an estimated $1.4 million.
Lund said that the investment might seem staggering, but the funds would return to the city.
"We have guaranteed our lease agreement that 100 percent of the city's funding would be paid back," he said. "To my knowledge, there's never been a sports agreement with that type of security."
According to a report by Tom Anderson, special projects manager for Oklahoma City, city revenues would have totaled an estimated $1 million.
The track record of American Le Mans races hasn't been stellar, as detailed in the report. Of seven previous attempts to set up a race on temporary tracks throughout the country, the average recurrence rate was 1.86 races. Besides poor sustainability and high financial risk, the report said conflicts could emerge with Project 180 development downtown.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer and Mayor Mick Cornett were the only two "yes" votes. Salyer said she wanted to give the organizers more time to work out the details, since she'd seen how popular the idea was with local race fans, especially since the loss of State Fair Park's grandstand.
"I had a hundred e-mails (Aug. 30), and of those, 65 percent or so were strongly and enthusiastically in favor," Salyer said. "I'm a fan of all sorts of motor sports, and I've traveled all over the world attending events, including 24 Hours of Le Mans in France. We've been hoping to attract another racing venue to the community, but for this particular instance, timing worked against us."
Despite the difficulty OKC Grand Prix now faces, Lund remains hopeful. He revealed that a liaison from "a competing city in this state" contacted him within an hour of the vote, but that he would prefer to keep the event in-state, adding that he believed it would be the largest sporting event in state history.
"You don't just pick a spot on a map and move forward; an event of this magnitude takes months and months of planning," Lund said. "Our goal would be to keep it in the premier special events market in the country, and that is the Oklahoma City market." "Charles Martin
OKC Grand Prix documents:
Proposed OKC Grand Prix (American Le Mans) Issues Summary
Letter of intent among City of Oklahoma City, OCPPA and OKC Grand Prix LLC
Letter of Intent with the Oklahoma City Public Property Authority