South Charlotte

Rock Hill considers haven for cyclists

Five years after it was first proposed, Rock Hill leaders are expected to vote this month on a preliminary agreement to build a $4 million center that would attract bicyclists from across the country and provide a year-round bicycling haven for children and area cyclists.

The centerpiece for the proposed Cycling Center of the Carolinas would be a velodrome – a banked, 250-meter, concrete oval race track.

Rock Hill officials are preparing a comprehensive agreement with the city's partner, the Carolina Velodrome Association, to present to the Rock Hill City Council as early as the Aug. 25 council meeting, said Rock Hill city manager Carey Smith.

If the council approves the agreement, the Velodrome Association would have until March to secure additional financing and get national cycling groups such as USA Cycling to commit to holding major racing events at the cycling center.

If approved, the center could be built by 2011.

Cycling enthusiasts Spencer Lueders and Mike Cowan, who helped create the recent “24 Hours of Booty” charity cycling event in Charlotte, developed the idea for the velodrome five years ago.

“Cycling is a huge sport and growing every year, and we feel like the timing is right to build a first-class racing facility here which will also serve the recreational needs of this community,” said Lueders, who lives in Charlotte and started competitive cycling while attending the University of South Carolina in 1989.

Cowan, a Rock Hill neurosurgeon, said that it has been a long road in making their case but that he feels confident that the center can be built because of several recent developments:

A $500,000 pledge by an anonymous donor.

The pledge of property worth $600,000 by the developers of Riverwalk, a 1,000-acre complex of retail, residential and an industrial park planned on the site of the former Celanese plant on U.S. 21/Cherry Road at the Catawba River. Another developer has made a similar pledge.

Heavy hitters including H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, the past president of Lowe's Motor Speedway, and Hugh McColl Jr., the former Bank of America CEO, have agreed to serve as advisers to their group.

McColl wrote a letter of support to the council in June in which he said the center could serve as a “hub for cycling in the Carolinas and the Southeast” and would be a “strong candidate for national and international events … such as the Pan American Games and Olympic trials.”

Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols said the bulk of the funding for the construction would come from tax dollars in the form of hospitality taxes and grants allocated by the city to promote tourism.

“We've long been intrigued with the concept of a cycling center here in Rock Hill and how it would dovetail with our long term sports tourism niche in the Charlotte region,” Echols said. “But the fact remains that such a center would cost a lot of money and we have to maximize those hospitality tax dollars.”

Stephen Turner, director of Rock Hill's Economic and Urban Development Department, said that such a cycling center could pay for itself, according to a recent economic impact study by Clemson University's Tourism Institute. The study found that such a center could generate $4.4 million annually for Rock Hill.

Turner envisions the cycling center as being the crossroads for a series of biking trails along the Catawba River in which kids and families could safely ride their bikes.

“This would be a year-round complex that would primarily be used by families and kids,” he said. “The velodrome would be part of the Carolina Cycling Center, not the other way around.”