Strong sales, lessons learned after Grand Prix

Austin officials were unsure how long it would be before the city gets the official tally of how much the United States Grand Prix added to the local economy.

City spokeswoman Roxanne Evans said that the official economic analysis will include hotel and motel taxes, sales taxes, and alcohol and beverage sales.

Anecdotal evidence from local businesses suggests that the Formula One race met expectations as a significant economic boost during the Nov. 16–18 weekend.

Circuit of The Americas reported total attendance during race weekend was 265,499. 117,429 visitors attended the main event, the Grand Prix on Nov. 18.

Restaurants

Austin's Warehouse District hosted Austin Fan Fest, a street festival showcasing F1 sponsors and local vendors, during the F1 weekend.

David Tripoli, an operating partner of Truluck's Restaurant Group, said representatives from COTA and coordinating company Music & Events Group met with the district to hammer out details.

He said he first knew that it would be a successful weekend a week before the race when reservations rolled in.

"I can tell you the district was packed," he said. "The district was so afraid of the street closures and deliveries. We experienced record sales days back to back. For its first year, COTA and the planning company did a really good job."

Food truck The Peached Tortilla had set up shop in the racetrack's Grand Plaza that weekend.

Owner Eric Silverstein said he could not disclose sales figures but said the truck did well.

"It was a good event for exposure and for people trying out our food," he said.

He said that for its first year, there were parts of the experience that could have been streamlined.

"At the end of the day, we were happy to be a part of it," he said.

The weekend had started out slowly for More Home Slice Pizza, General Manager Jeff Mettler said.

"It wasn't quite as much business as a normal week, but we had all of the seats full," he said. "I think we got good results from social media. We posted the wait and let locals know that it actually was a good weekend to come down."

He added that the restaurant probably did 90 percent of its normal weekend business by the end of Nov. 18.

Casino Eighmey, owner of Casino El Camino on East Sixth Street, said the weekend had been a disappointment. He said that he had sent staffers home throughout the race weekend.

"A lot of my compatriots and I overordered on everything," he said. "What happened was that the powers that be were promoting it so much that it scared away our regulars."

Eighmey said fans who spent eight hours at the track probably came back, ate dinner and were disinterested in going downtown in large numbers.

Hotels and transportation

Sean Sorrell, senior managing director with commercial real estate intermediary HHF, said that F1 fans stayed in Austin-area hotels for an average of three to four nights to watch the race.

Leslie Pchola, general manager of the Austin Hilton, said that all of the hotel's 800 rooms were full during race weekend. "The difference with the F1 traveler is that their focus was to be at the track and at F1-related events," she said. "Folks got out, had breakfast and went out to the track. Later, they went out at night and came back late."

Farther south, Buda hotels enjoyed increased business as well, said Alisha Workman, Buda director of tourism.

The city's five hotels were at full capacity, as were two 40-seat shuttles taking visitors to the track, she said.

"We are closer than people think," she said. "We are just 15 minutes away from the track."

Edward Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab Austin, said his cabs logged 15,000 trips, up from 8,000–9,000 during a regular weekend.

He said he was impressed with the transportation plan and that travel had gone smoothly. He said drivers were making 13 to 20 trips a day and earning $700–$900 per day.