The idea of a Rock Hill track that could host national-caliber bicycle races is tantalizing. But we agree with city officials who say it would have to have other uses that serve the local community to justify an investment of public money.
Plans for a bicycle track -- or velodrome -- have inched along in recent years with support from local organizers, including members of the Rock Hill Bicycle Club. The project got a shot in the arm recently with the endorsement of Hugh McColl, retired Bank of America chief and a bicycling enthusiast. McColl wrote a letter to the City Council touting the velodrome as "a hub for cycling in the Carolinas and the Southeast" and urging the city to support it.
Some of the groundwork for a velodrome already has been laid. Developers of the site of the former Celanese plant off Cherry Road near the Catawba River have pledged to set aside land for the track at no cost to the city.
They say the track would fit well with their plans for ball fields and walking trails within the Riverwalk Development. That massive project includes plans for a variety of shops, homes, a business park and recreation areas along the river.
Members of the Carolina Velodrome Association, for which McColl is an adviser, also have pledged $500,000 for the project. Humpy Wheeler, who recently retired as president of Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., also is an adviser to the association.
Neither McColl nor Wheeler has pledged money or other support for the project. But organizers note that just lending their names to the effort is a boost.
Even with land and financial help from the Velodrome Association, however, the city still would be faced with $4 million in construction costs. That money would come primarily from hospitality taxes and grants controlled by City Hall.
But, as Mayor Doug Echols notes, the project is hard to justify if all it does is serve as a venue for three or four professional bicycle races a year.
"If we're going to put public dollars in it, then it has to have multiple uses. We need to think in terms of maximizing the investment year-round," Echols said.
City officials said the velodrome might offer riding classes for youngsters, field trips for school groups and similar activities. And, of course, local and area bicycling clubs could use it for competitions. Perhaps, as boosters claim, the facility eventually could be a destination for the world's top cyclists and their fans. And the odds of success increase if the velodrome is part of a sports complex as envisioned by the Riverwalk planners.
City officials say they will make a decision in August. New funding sources may come forward before then.
But, as we see it, this project has to serve a larger public need before the city sinks taxpayer money into it.
Supporters of velodrome hope McColl endorsement will help win approval.
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