New Rock Hill park could add BMX Supercross, Cyclocross

04/02/2010 12:00 AM

04/02/2010 11:51 AM

Wowed by talk of Olympic trials and world championship races, Rock Hill leaders on Thursday embraced expanded plans for a cycling park near the Catawba River.

When the idea first surfaced more than five years ago, organizers talked about a velodrome - an oval concrete track.

A more ambitious plan is now envisioned. With guidance from USA Cycling, city officials and a group of area bikers pushing the park want to add BMX Supercross, Cyclocross, a paved road course and mountain bike trails.

The centerpiece is still a $4million velodrome, with lighting, stadium seats and a press box.

It's viewed as a key early attraction at Riverwalk, a mega-development on the old Celanese industrial site off Cherry Road along the Catawba. An office park, shopping village and hundreds of homes are planned in coming years.

Rock Hill officials have called it the most transformational project in the city's history.

The BMX Supercross track - dirt with lots of high jumps - would be the only one of its kind on the East Coast. BMX debuted in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics. Also planned is Cyclocross, a hilly course in which cyclists dismount and push their bikes during races.

Rock Hill got a visit last fall from Steve Johnson, chief executive of USA Cycling, the official sanctioning body for the U.S. Olympic team. Johnson said the velodrome and surrounding venues could host national caliber events.

"We could have a national championship for each one of those venues every year, on a rolling basis," said co-organizer Spencer Lueders.

Questions over audience

Skeptics see the potential for another U.S. National Whitewater Center, the facility in southwest Mecklenburg County that has struggled with debt since opening in 2006.

A mix of public and private money would pay for the velodrome. The city would commit about $3 million from hospitality taxes and money from a special tax district.

Some suspect the venue - known as the Cycling and Outdoor Center of the Carolinas - will be a playground for wealthy cycling aficionados from other states.

Not true, says Mayor Doug Echols, noting the city's parks department will put on programs for all residents, from young children learning to ride to retirees trying to stay active.

"It's very important for the general public to understand, yes, these are elite facilities," Echols said. "But every one will be open to all our citizens to use in some form or fashion."

With few businesses in expansion mode, Councilman John Black asked whether a taxpayer-subsidized velodrome could wind up being the only thing that comes to fruition. Plans call for restaurants, shops, a hotel and YMCA surrounding the track.

Build it and the businesses will come, said City Manager Carey Smith.

"When they believe something is going to happen, then they will sign on," Smith said. "That gives them an extremely powerful, persuasive marketing tool."

A paved trail opens this spring along the Catawba River as one of the first public amenities at Riverwalk. If the cycling center gains final approval, construction could start in 2011 with the first attractions opening the next year.

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