New Rock Hill criterium cycling course part of proposed $5.8M spending

Herald file image: Giordana Velodrome, Rock Hill Outdoor Center at Riverwalk
Herald file image: Giordana Velodrome, Rock Hill Outdoor Center at Riverwalk

Rock Hill officials are considering borrowing about $5.8 million to pay for upgrades at several public parks and recreation facilities, including spending nearly $2.2 million on a new criterium cycling road course at the city’s Outdoor Center at Riverwalk.

The 1.5 mile, 20-foot-wide paved race course would be the latest cycling amenity at the Riverwalk development. Currently, the city owns and operates a BMX Supercross track and a cycling velodrome, both of which have attracted national competitions.

Riverwalk – located off Cherry Road, near Interstate 77 and bordering the Catawba River in northern Rock Hill – includes private home and apartment developments as well as commercial and industrial businesses. Other recreational offerings at the Rock Hill Outdoor Center include running and walking trails, a mountain bike course, a kayak and canoe launch on the river, and soon-to-open multipurpose athletic fields.

City officials said Tuesday adding a criterium course to host cycling events, along with a new parking area and camping site for competitors, would enhance recreation and tourism in Rock Hill. Another $1.3 million for the criterium course would come from the private developer who owns land at Riverwalk.

Investment in parks and tourism is good for local businesses and residents seeking recreation.

Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols

City Council members discussed a proposal to borrow the money for the criterium track and other city park improvements at a workshop Tuesday afternoon. No votes were taken, with city leaders saying a decision about spending and borrowing could be made later this year.

Other proposed projects include:

▪ A new storage building and four new tennis courts at the Rock Hill Tennis Center on Cherry Road. Together, those additions would cost about $500,000. Paying members of the tennis center often have difficulty scheduling court time due to popularity, Rock Hill Parks, Recreation and Tourism Director John Taylor said. More courts could serve local players, visitors and competitors during tournaments.

▪ Updated field lights at Cherry Park, new fencing around baseball and softball fields, and brick “paver” to replace worn out concrete and pathways. The city could borrow around $1.3 million for those upgrades at Cherry Park. The park’s current field lights are so old, Taylor said, the city has difficulty finding replacement parts for the lights.

▪ Replacing the existing canoe and kayak launch at River Park, located near Red River Road close to the Rock Hill Galleria. City officials say the current steps leading people from the parking area to the Catawba River are unsafe when water levels are low. A sloping canoe and kayak launch spot, like the one in use at Riverwalk, is a better option, Taylor said. This upgrade could cost about $250,000.

▪ Adding public restrooms between River Park and Riverwalk and paved parking at the Catawba River Trail at River Park. City officials say the canoe and kayak launch and walking trails at the park are popular with Rock Hill visitors and families. This improvement would cost about $500,000.

▪ New parking areas around Glencairn Garden near downtown Rock Hill. The city could borrow about $450,000 to add off-street parking lots on Crest Street and Edgemont Avenue to accommodate garden visitors and event-goers during large turnout events such as the annual Come-See-Me festival.

▪ Using undeveloped property near the BMX track at Riverwalk to build more event parking. For the largest cycling competitions that draw thousands of athletes and spectators, city officials say the Outdoor Center needs more parking available to keep event-goers from using on-street parking near private Riverwalk residences. For this addition, Rock Hill could borrow about $300,000.

Veteran BMX Pro rider Tim Dinger, 34, shows off some of his riding skills during a past event at the Novant Health BMX Supercross track. Dannie WallsHerald

Sports tourism, like BMX, drives the growth of Rock Hill’s hospitality tax

If the plans are approved by the City Council later this year, Rock Hill would borrow $5.8 million and pay the loan back through hospitality tax funds. That money comes from a 2 percent charge at Rock Hill businesses on prepared food and beverage. The hospitality tax fund also includes money from an accommodations tax charged at local hotels.

In the past, Rock Hill has borrowed money to build several recreation and tourism amenities. The city can afford to borrow money again for parks and recreation facilities because hospitality tax revenues have grown favorably, said Steven Gibson, Rock Hill’s top budget director.

Over the past five years, revenues from the 2 percent food and beverage hospitality tax have grown an average 11.5 percent, Gibson said. Over the past year, Rock Hill brought in about $5 million in hospitality tax. That number is expected to grow at least 5 percent every year as tourism increases in Rock Hill.

Most City Council members on Tuesday appeared to back the proposal to borrow money for recreation and tourism projects.

Mayor Doug Echols said the spending is an investment that provides more opportunities for residents to use local facilities and attracts more out-of-town visitors who spend money on food, gas and lodging at local businesses.