May 6, 2014

BMX track closer to finish line in Rock Hill

Tuesday’s installation of starting gates on the amateaur ramp of Rock Hill’s BMX Supercross track moves the city closer to the finish line on its newest sports tourism facility. The first big BMX event will be held in October.

Tuesday’s installation of starting gates on the amateur ramp of Rock Hill’s BMX Supercross track moves the city closer to the finish line on its newest sports tourism facility.

Rock Hill will host its first event in October when USA BMX brings its 2014 Gold Cup Finals East to the new track at the Outdoor Center at Riverwalk, located off Cherry Road near Interstate 77. The competition will last three days, with more than 800 bicycle racers participating. The event is free for spectators.

BMX racers from around the world, including South America, Australia, Europe and Canada, are expected to compete. The Rock Hill event is part of the USA Pro Series, which means some Olympic athletes will attend.

As city officials planned for and borrowed money to pay for the new BMX track last year, supporters promised that the facility would attract athletes and spectators from around the world. Rock Hill’s parks, recreation and tourism department will operate the track and partner with USA BMX to host events.

The October event is evidence of the global interest in the BMX sport, said John Taylor, Rock Hill director of parks, recreation and tourism.

Rock Hill’s track will both host international competitions and serve as a training facility for overseas teams, he said.

“And, we really think people are going to move to Rock Hill just because of this track,” Taylor said.

One big name in the BMX sport has already moved to Rock Hill because of its entry into the cycling world. In January, the city hired Mike King, a former pro racer and member of the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame, to serve as Rock Hill’s first BMX coordinator.

King is from Chula Vista, Calif. He served as the U.S. Olympic Cycling BMX program director for the 2012 London Games. Before that, he oversaw the program for the 2008 Beijing Games, where BMX was introduced as an Olympic sport.

On Tuesday, King looked on as workers used a crane to lift the aluminum starting gates into position on the BMX track’s 5-meter-tall amateur ramp. Experienced racers in Rock Hill will use the track’s 8-meter-tall elite ramp.

When the city began building of the BMX facility, Taylor said, they wanted to bring on “the best in the sport.” King’s hiring, he said, was a big part of ensuring success of the new track.

Officials expect the track will have a $4 million economic impact on Rock Hill as visitors attend events, buy gas and food and stay in local hotels. Last year, the city estimated its sports tournaments and events brought in nearly $18 million.

“Sports tourism is big business for Rock Hill,” Taylor said, adding that the city will continue its focus on other parks to serve residents and local sports teams. Soon, the BMX track will also be open for Rock Hill residents and youth programming will be available to teach the sport to children and others just starting out.

The Novant Health BMX track joins the Giordiana Velodrome, another competitive cycling venue, and several biking and walking trails at the city’s Outdoor Center.

The city’s investment in cycling makes “a real lifestyle statement,” said Tedd Duncan, senior associate at Stantec of Charlotte. Stantec is involved in the landscaping and other design elements for the track.

Rock Hill’s track is a 1,100-foot-long dirt course with steeply banked asphalt turns and a variety of jumps for cyclists. The facility will include bleachers and two-phase stadium lights, which gives officials the choice to reduce energy consumption when TV-quality lighting is not needed.

Professional-caliber BMX tracks “don’t come along every day,” Duncan said. “These are very special.”

Although Rock Hill was already known for its parks such as Manchester Meadows and Cherry Park, Duncan said, the BMX track takes sports tourism and recreation options to a new level.

“They’re not just living on their reputation – they’re stepping out.”

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