The facts are pretty straightforward. A wooden track, built in 1990, is beyond its design lifestyle — especially in a climate like that in Minnesota. Repair isn’t cheap ($750,000); reconstruction isn’t cheap ($1.2 million or so).
But the numbers being held up don’t tell the story either.
First, the number of riders. There are about 200 riders every year, not necessarily including the Fixed Gear Classic. A number of those riders have won Masters World Championships or competed in the Junior Nationals.
Second, the number of spectators. Cycling isn’t typically approached as a spectator sport in much of the US. The bleachers at the Velodrome have a fairly limited seating area for a couple hundred a week. Could they support more spectators than currently come in? Sure. But should we be judging the worth of the facility on spectators?
The truth is that track cycling is a very niche activity, much as something like speed skating or running the steeplechase is. It has a relationship to an activity with broader appeal, but requires specific equipment, venue and training to participate in. The events also require some knowledge to view with any degree of knowledge. (C’mon, tell me what a Madison race is.) While the sport is much more popular in places like Japan and Korea and even the Netherlands, so is speed skating (and short-track speed skating).
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Cycling Center group have been pitching a new indoor cycling center near the Shoreham Yards area of Northeast Minneapolis. While the facility has been positioned as also hosting concerts and conventions, the cost of that facility — which probably wouldn’t cause explosive growth in track racing, given the niche nature of the sport — is estimated at $15-20 million. It would be more central, and closer to the Minneapolis population hub, rather than associated with Blaine’s NSC. On the other hand, Blaine’s NSC is also the largest youth/amateur athletic complex in the US, and is even the site of Olympic team training for women’s hockey.
There are a lot of ways to spend that kind of money, be it $750,000 or $17 million dollars. There are opportunity costs. Even tearing down the existing Velodrome has costs, since the space would need work to convert to anything else. (It’s not level, for instance, to make another soccer field.) These issues must be considered. But holding up just spectators and participants as the metrics is probably inadequate. It’s also a standard that isn’t being applied to other development, such as the St. Croix Bridge (which is costing 5 figures per daily user).
I, personally, would be sad to see the velodrome go. While I’ve only ridden it once, I am a regular spectator. My son dreams of the day he can do the youth course at the track. I’d hate to see him not get that chance.