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NSC Velodrome in Danger — What Metrics Matter?

The NSC Velodrome is in some danger of demolition.

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.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


  1. Thanks for this piece.

    There are a few wrong numbers floating around – a repair is likely to cost $60,000, not $750,000. And, the NSC staff is using wrong numbers for ridership. There were about 200 unique racers, but nearly 500 unique users.

    There are more than twice as many soccer fields at the National Sports Center than there are velodromes in the whole country. Of course track cycling is a niche activity (basketball would be, too, if there were only 24 basketball courts in the country), but the fact that something is uncommon is no grounds for its elimination. The community is raising money for the repair – the only question is if the NSC will let them repair it.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Matthew.

      The press is picking up the $850k number for repair/renovate, which seems a bit preposterous if rebuild is $1.2 million. For that matter, it seems like rebuild should be a bit less, as the site has already been improved, even if new supports and the like need to be sunk. In other words, I’d guess $850k would be the cost of all new wood and supports and labor/contracting.

      The cost is a significant issue. My understanding is that a 25-year-old wood velodrome is past design lifespan, so even if base repair costs $60,000, it’s a short-term fix and the greater funding is going to have to be addressed soon.

      I don’t think the decision should be made on spectator count or unique users, though. A benefactor or USCF support would be pretty great, if it could be acquired, as it would make the decision process simpler. As it is, depending on the financials required, there’s not a lot of motivation to go further into real metrics.

  2. The numbers being presented to the media by the NSC are a farce. And the new velodrome “project” proposed for northeast is still in the “dream” phase. Coming on three years and they still don’t have a committed location. There has been no movement on it in over a year. And if there has, nothing has been communicated to the public other than they “obtained their non-profit status” as their website states.

    The facts are: the NSC was given a world class facility to maintain and run and they failed miserably at both. They should be held accountable. But instead they are attempting to squeeze the user group for money and resources that THEY should be responsible for.

    And the NSC boasts “4 million visitors annually”. Has anyone done the math on this? It comes in at just under 11,000 visitors A DAY! It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that number is grossly exaggerated.

    The NSC Board of Directors needs to be held accountable for the failure of this world class velodrome facility.