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What Austin’s Doing – and Isn’t Doing – for F1 After Last Year

Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News
A classic racer at last year’s F1 expo. Austin is making a more measured predictions after hosting its first Formula 1 race last year.";

This time last year, many local businesses were staffed up and overstocked.

In the weeks and months prior to its first Formula 1 Grand Prix, Austin prepared to host thousands of fans from around the globe.

With the sport attracting a coterie of high rollers, business expectations were high. The Austin Better Business Bureau even urged local businesses to consider accepting foreign currency.

For some, the event brought an increase in business. But for many vendors and retailers, the crowds never seemed to show up.

This year Austinites are taking a more measured response to the event.

According to a reportprepared for the local hosts of the race, the Grand Prix injected $193.6 million into the Austin economy last year, with hotels and airfares experiences the largest increases in revenue.

That may not surprise local restaurants and retail businesses, many of which experienced not just slower business than expected, but slower business than a usual weekend.

The City of Austin Small Business Development Program conducted a surveyin early 2013 reflecting underwhelming F1 business. The survey included 231 local businesses. It showed that:

  • 62 percent of respondents expected the 2012 race to positively impact their business
  • 65 percent of respondents altered their business operations to account for F1

But those adaptations did not pay off for many.

  • 50 percent of respondents stated that they had fewer customers than expected
  • 47 percent of respondents said local and regular customers avoided local businesses due to anticipated F1 crowds.

This was the case for Home Slice Pizza on South Congress. Co-owner Jen Strickland says F1 weekend was one of the pizzeria’s slowest weekends of 2012.

Despite increasing supply orders and staffing for the weekend, Home Slice did not see their regular weekend crowds either. “In-towners were afraid to come out,” Strickland says, “and out-of-towners never came.”

This year, race hosts says they’re doing more to invite Austinites into the F1 fold.

The Austin Fan Fest downtown is expanding to four days and features a wider variety of entertainment and retail options organizers hope will appeal to both local families and upscale visitors.

Its promoters – race hosts Circuit of the Americas (COTA) – are also implementing some lessons from last year's Fan Fest to be more Austin friendly.

“When we closed down Congress [Avenue] last year for this, it was a little tough on the businesses, people, and flow of traffic, which is why we didn't do Congress this year,” says COTA’s Paul Thornton. “So we have taken an approach to get a lot of ‘push’ out there to ticket buyers that Austin has so much more to see. You need to check out South Congress, Sixth Street, some of the city's historic districts."

While organizers hope more Austinites join the F1 festivities, Home Slice’s Strickland wants more visitors to experience Austin like a local would.

“I would like the people that come here to leave knowing a little bit what Austin is about,” she says. “We have such awesome hospitality, such great businesses, and such friendly people.”

Carrie Powell is a news intern covering stories for the KUT News blog. Originally hailing from Ohio, Carrie entered the world of public radio through WGTE FM 91 in Toledo. Having recently concluded a year of service with AmeriCorps VISTA, Carrie is interested in news, community, and storytelling.
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