Meanwhile, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said he is hopeful Grand Prix racing will be a reality in Oklahoma City, maybe as soon as 2012.
Senate Bill 160, the Municipal Motor Vehicle Racing Act, would allow a city or public trust to issue racing permits for street races and allow permit holders to limit access and charge admission to the race event held on public streets.
The bill’s author, Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, said the bill does not make such races guaranteed, but takes legal hurdles out of the path if such an event were to happen.
“A municipality cannot issue a permit to a third party to actually charge admission for the use of public right-of-ways, i.e. streets and sidewalks,” Holt said. “A city will issue a permit to someone to close down streets, but those are always for events that are open to the general public like a parade.”
Holt, who was chief of staff for Cornett prior to being elected to the Senate in 2010, said the bill takes language from an existing Florida statute. Although he supports having Grand Prix racing in Oklahoma City, the decision of whether to hold a race would be entirely up to local authorities.
“(The bill) is a completely necessary aspect of having a Grand Prix,” Holt said. “No one should think this legislation makes a Grand Prix happen. It creates a legal environment where it’s possible.”
The measure has already passed the Senate and must now go through the House of Representatives.
In late October, Oklahoma City Motorsports announced it was in the process of securing a sanctioning body and a 2012 date for a race in the city’s Adventure District.
Mike McAuliffe, Oklahoma City Motorsports CEO, said at the time that a possible race route would include stretches of Martin Luther King Boulevard, N.E. 50th Street, N.E. Grand Boulevard and even a stretch through Remington Park.
A proposal in March 2010 to allow the city manager’s office to negotiate with Oklahoma City Grand Prix LLC to bring the American Le Mans Series was approved by the City Council.
However, a subsequent city report stated that similar races held on streets rather than dedicated tracks have poor recurrence rates, and would be a risky financial move. The report also noted conflicts that would arise between the race and the extensive downtown renovation plan, Project 180.
The initial Grand Prix plan was shot down on Aug. 31 when the council voted 6-2 against a measure that would have fronted up to nearly $7 million in capital expenditures from the Oklahoma City Public Property Authority to Oklahoma City Grand Prix.
Cornett said the city was aware of the new bill, and that it was introduced on the city’s behalf.
While he said he hopes to see a Grand Prix race downtown, conflicts with the large streetscape refurbishing of Project 180 would likely cause such an event to be located in other areas of the city for the first few years.
“We have to be sensitive to what impact a race would have,” he said. “Long term, the economic impact of having a Grand Prix race and the exposure we would get would outweigh the slight inconvenience we would have.”
Cornett said he sought a publicprivate partnership to replace the looming closure of the State Fair Speedway a few years ago. After being unable to secure a partner, he embraced the idea of using existing infrastructure for the underserved market of race fans.
“I think we’re the right-sized market, and I think the market is ripe now — with the Thunder fully entrenched in the community — that we can add something of this size and nature,” Cornett said. “It would do well in Oklahoma City if you had the right promoter.”
Cornett said the earlier attempt to host a race was premature, and was not surprised it failed.
“We still have multiple parties interested in doing the race,” he said. “I always felt that 2011 was a little soon when we were talking about this a year ago. It seemed this was always a little quick for an event of this magnitude.”
Cornett said such an event would be a good investment and have a large impact on the local economy.
“I’m very interested, but it’s got to be the reaction to the marketplace,” Cornett said, adding that he would like to see a race “as soon as 2012, if I could be convinced the route is not going to interrupt normal flow of city traffic.
“If someone wanted to hold a race away from downtown in 2012, I don’t think there would be a problem.”