Opinion

Sports site plans grow

Plans for a new sports center at the site of the former Celanese plant have grown well beyond original proposals for a bicycle track, which probably expands its appeal. The more people served by the center, the more likely it will be built.

Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols endorsed the idea of a multipurpose center, saying it would add to the city's growing reputation as a sports tourism community. The proposed 250-acre center, dubbed the Cycling and Outdoor Center of the Carolinas, would include a bicycle racing rack -- called a velodrome -- a mountain bike course, a climbing wall, an in-line skating park and sports fields for baseball, softball and other sports.

The center would be part of a huge development at the location of the former Celanese Celriver Plant off Cherry Road. Developers hope to build shops, homes and a business park on the property, which is bordered by the Catawba River.

The developers have agreed to donate land -- valued at about $600,000 -- to the project. A group of cycling buffs with the Carolina Velodrome Association also have pledged $500,000.

But the bulk of the money for the $4 million project would come from hospitality taxes and grants controlled by the city. No decision has been made about how construction costs would be divided among the different groups, but plans could firm up early next year.

Ironically, the bigger this project gets, the more practical it looks. Initial plans for a velodrome appeared to be largely a limited niche interest. While cyclists were enthusiastic, it was hard to see how a bike racing track would generate widespread public interest.

The velodrome still would be a central part of the new center, but the added features seem likely to attract a larger and more diverse group of sports enthusiasts. It could appeal not only to cyclists but also rock climbers, skaters, and baseball and softball players.

With access to the river, we hope it might also include kayaking and canoeing.

A group of local officials traveled to Florida in September to watch a velodrome event at a multi-sport park. We suspect there are other prototypes city officials could study to figure out if the idea would work here.

Even with expanded offerings, the market for such a center in this region might be limited. City officials don't want to be shortsighted, but they need to do considerable research before investing $4 million in public money on a project like this.

That said, Rock Hill has established itself as a sports tourism center. This new multi-sport center might be a good addition.

IN SUMMARY

The more people served by a possible multipurpose center, the more likely it will be built.

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