Future of the velodrome in Blaine is uncertain

Cyclists might have to look elsewhere to take a spin on a velodrome if the only outdoor track in the region at the National Sports Center in Blaine is closed.

“It’s like having Yankee Stadium in your backyard,” is how veteran cyclist Matthew Montesano described the 250-meter wooden track.

The velodrome is  one of the original structures dating back to the NSC’s inception in 1990 and has hosted several high-profile events over the years including the 1992 Olympic Cycling Trials, several U.S. National Championships, international Grand Prix meets and the Thursday Night Lights series in addition to development classes and training sessions.

Cyclists not only from Minnesota and Wisconsin take advantage of the unique structure but world-class racers have tested their bikes on the world-class track.Photo by Bill Jones
Cyclists not only from Minnesota and Wisconsin take advantage of the unique structure but world-class racers have tested their bikes on the world-class track.Photo by Bill Jones

Cycling is the least-popular sport offered at the NSC with an average seasonal attendance figure of 8,000 spectators, riders, coaches and officials. Last season they had 192 registered riders compete at various races including the Thursday Night Lights racing series and for the last three seasons the Fixed Gear Classic.

Some of the notable riders who have competed on the track include U.S. Olympic gold medalist Marty Nothstein, world champion and U.S. Olympic silver medalist Rebecca Twigg, Swiss world champion Franco Marvulli and Tour de France stage winner Leon Van Bon from the Netherlands.

Over the years the weather, including harsh winters, has taken a toll on the Afzelia wood surface designed by the world-famous velodrome design firm, Schurmnn Architects of Berlin, Germany, requiring extensive resources to maintain a safe and competitive structure.

The velodrome at the National Sports Center in Blaine hosted its 25th season of racing last summer. The 250-meter wooden outdoor track is showing its age and is need of costly repairs.Photo by Bill Jones
The velodrome at the National Sports Center in Blaine hosted its 25th season of racing last summer. The 250-meter wooden outdoor track is showing its age and is need of costly repairs.Photo by Bill Jones

Volunteer carpenters have provided much of the regular maintenance and repair of the track surface and wood trusses that support the track.

As a result of being outdoors, the velodrome is showing its age and the pace of repairs has increased, according to a Dec. 18 press release from the National Sports Center.

The NSC board of directors formed a subcommittee, led by board chair John Daniels, to look at the future of the track at an April 7 meeting. They decided to keep the track open for the 2014 racing season, which concluded in October.

According to the release, the NSC Foundation board has worked together with the Friends of Velodrome Racing Minnesota group to find a solution, appointing a select subcommittee to develop a viable financial plan to address repairs ahead of the 2015 season.

That plan included temporary repairs at an estimated $75,000 with plans to keep the track open for another four to six years. Also, the group was required to find a properly licensed contractor to lead the repairs for liability insurance purposes.

The velodrome at the National Sports Center in Blaine hosted its 25th season of racing last summer. The 250-meter wooden outdoor track is showing its age and is need of costly repairs.Photo by Bill Jones
The velodrome at the National Sports Center in Blaine hosted its 25th season of racing last summer. The 250-meter wooden outdoor track is showing its age and is need of costly repairs.Photo by Bill Jones

The racing group and NSC would split the cost of repairs over the next four years in addition to the operating costs.

“The track operates at a loss so there was hesitancy from the board to put money into a temporary fix for the track that would not get us more than six years,” said Barclay Kruse, the NSC’s communications director, estimating the annual loss ranging from $45,000 to $50,000. “What has changed is that more repairs are needed. It’s gotten to the point we can’t spend a dollar here or there. The problem is the repairs are temporary.”

As for what to do with the track if it does not reopen this spring, Kruse added: “There is no plan to do anything with it yet.”

Friends of Velodrome Racing Minnesota spokesperson Tom McGolrick estimated the organization is at 80 percent of the fundraising goal through a GoFund campaign in addition to corporate sponsorships.

“We have a good plan to offset the operating losses and in general things are a challenge but looking more positive than a couple weeks ago,” McGoldrick said. He’s been an racer at the track for the last five orsix seasons through the corporate racing challenge, in addition to his daughter participating in the junior racing program offered.

He noted the increasing number of female riders joining the Thursday Night Lights series from only a handful a few years ago to more than two dozen last summer as one reason to keep the track operating. “That’s a major step forward and the youth program has taken major steps. This is an amazing track even though it is in need of repairs. We have riders from across the country coming here to train and we like to organize at least one big event each year.”

McGoldrick said the group is confident to find a way to financially support the track through 2019, “Beyond that we have a lot of different options.”

That could including a total rebuild on the current site with the addition of a roof or a new velodrome location in the metro.

At the Dec. 18 NSC Foundation board meeting, the resolution to set financial goals with the Friends of Velodrome Racing Minnesota to meet was debated and ultimately did not pass after a lengthy discussion.

Some board members recognized that if significant outside financial solutions can be found to address the needed repairs on the facility, the velodrome could be reopened.

“It’s terrific,” said Montesano, who has been competing at the velodrome for years, noting the sense of community among the riders is there and seems to be growing. “Just because its been at a loss in the past, doesn’t mean it has to continue.”

Montesano pointed to the lack of available tracks across the country and feels keeping the velodrome open is a valuable asset to the community.

“I’ve raced around the country and talked with people who race internationally and those people agree that this track surface and design is one of the best,” he said.

Efforts to raise the necessary funds through the Friends group have brought in $40,000, according to Montesano. “The operating fundraising is well within our capacity, but it is tough to attract corporate sponsorship to a facility that we’re not sure will be around (in the spring),” he said. “We’re a well-connected group of people.”

Another cycling group, the Minnesota Cycling Center, has formed with the intention of establishing a multi-discipline indoor and outdoor cycling campus in Northeast Minneapolis. One feature would be an indoor velodrome, of which the NSC board is in full support of as the best long-term solution for the Twin Cities.

jason.olson@ecm-inc.com