Editor's note:The following article appears in the April 1 issue of Bicycle Retailer & Industry News
By Toby Hill
ROCK HILL, SC (BRAIN) Monday April 16 2012 8:17 AM MT—Moab. Boulder. Whistler. … Rock Hill?
While it might not be on the level of those revered bike meccas, this South Carolina town of 65,000 certainly has committed to putting itself on the map as a cycling destination.
Rock Hill last month opened the new Giordana Velodrome, a 250-meter, state-of-the-art outdoor concrete track that’s part of a larger cycling center the city is building in partnership with a Cincinnati-based land developer. The center, which will also include mountain bike trails, a cyclocross course, road course and Olympic-level BMX supercross track, stems from Rock Hill’s mission of fostering sports tourism in the city.
The recipe is simple: Rock Hill builds top-flight venues to draw top-flight events—and the tourism dollars that follow.
For 25 years, regional and national baseball and softball tournaments have played out on the world-class diamonds of Rock Hill’s 68-acre Cherry Park. In 2005 the city opened the Rock Hill Tennis Center, site of U.S. Tennis Association pro events. And the Manchester Meadows soccer complex, opened in 2006, will host this year’s National Youth Soccer Championship.
“Rock Hill has incorporated sports tourism into the city’s strategic plan under the initiative of long- and short-term economic development. That’s what led to this interest in cycling,” said Ed Thompson, director of Rock Hill’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.
The cycling center is part of Riverwalk, a 1,000-acre mixed-use development on the site of a former textile factory. Riverwalk already had a two-mile recreational bike path overlooking the Catawba River, but the just-completed velodrome represents Rock Hill’s biggest commitment to cycling thus far.
The $4 million venue was built in a public-private partnership between the city and Riverwalk developer The Assured Group and was designed by Ralph Schuermann, the third generation of Germany’s Schuermann track-building dynasty.
It has a sunken design, with the 31,000-square-foot infield accessed via a tunnel, and features 42.5-degree banked turns, permanent seating for 800 spectators (plus space for temporary seating) and lighting powerful enough for national television broadcasts. Overlooking the velodrome, a two-story, 3,000-square-foot building contains staff offices, changing rooms and a meeting area with a view of the track for hosting corporate events.
Giordana owner Gita Sporting Goods, with offices in nearby Charlotte, North Carolina, paid for the naming rights to the venue and has signed a 10-year commitment to support the Giordana Velodrome. The company is also supplying clothing for velodrome staff and a fleet of track bikes from Pinarello, which Gita distributes in the U.S.
“The fact that there was a track coming into what amounts to our back yard, we thought we have to be involved with this,” said Sandy Nicholls, marketing director for Gita. “We saw that this was going to be something special—not only the velodrome but this whole community that’s going to be cycling-friendly with all these other venues.”
Reflecting that dedication to cycling, Rock Hill has hired former pro road racer, race promoter and cycling team manager Thad Fischer as the city’s full-time cycling coordinator.
Up next for the cycling center: The UCI-standard BMX supercross track is set to break ground in late spring for a planned summer opening, Fischer said. While the track will accommodate elite professional events, it will also have a parallel course with a separate start ramp for less experienced riders, encouraging “local usage all the way up to international usage,” he noted.
Fischer said design work has not begun on the cyclocross course, but local trail builder and contractor Robert Nobley is already establishing mountain bike trails throughout Riverwalk’s ravine-veined, rolling topography. In all, there will be 10 miles of mountain bike trails, including a UCI-approved short track and offshoots for different skill levels. “Just like the velodrome and the BMX, we want to be able to host national- or world-level events here as well,” Fischer said.
Though there’s ample mountain bike riding 20-plus miles away in Charlotte, Rock Hill residents will now be able to pedal to their own off-road trails, Nobley noted. “We didn’t really have anywhere to ride a mountain bike in Rock Hill, so there’s huge enthusiasm for this trail,” he said.
Meanwhile at the velodrome, local riders and club members have been trained as track officials and safety instructors—all riders must complete classroom and on-track training to ride—in anticipation of local races starting this month or in early May.
The velodrome will host the USA Cycling International Omnium National Track Championship in August and the North and South Carolina state track championships in September. It has also secured the omnium event for 2013.
“The track is beautiful. It’s a gorgeous piece of concrete,” said Robert Baker, owner of College Cycles Bicycle Shop in Rock Hill, adding that he expects local riding to surge in all categories the cycling center will offer. In preparation, he has changed his product mix and brought on new brands at his shop.
“I’ll be stocking 20, 25 track bikes. I’ve already stocked in about 40 BMX bikes. We plan to have a mobile service truck to go out there and support the events,” he said.
But more than his bottom line, Baker—who remembers his days as a young racer when Rock Hill plowed under the city’s BMX track due to liability concerns—is excited about what the cycling center means for his hometown.
“I’m going to be out supporting the cycling center because it’s in my community. It’s what I should be doing,” he said. “Is the cycling center going to be beneficial to my business? Yes. More importantly to me, it’s going to be beneficial to my community. It’s going to make it a better place to live.”