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Published in North Carolina News on March 28, 2013
City leaders, sports tourism supporters and a local bicycle shop owner say Rock Hill’s plan for a new BMX racing center will draw out-of-town visitors and put the city on the map.
John Gettys, former Rock Hill City Council member and current chairman of the Rock Hill Sports Commission, told the council this month the BMX track is a “fabulous project” that could eventually host Olympic trial races.
The council unanimously gave initial approval to borrowing $6.25 million to pay for the BMX Supercross track in the developing Riverwalk outdoor center.
The council likely will vote again for final approval on April 8.
Rock Hill plans to use the money collected in hospitality tax receipts to pay back the $6.25 million loan.
Money coming in from Rock Hill’s hospitality tax – a 2 percent levy on prepared food and drinks – has more than doubled over the past 10 years. Collections are expected to continue to grow by at least 5 percent every year over the next five years, said Steven Gibson, the city’s budget director.
The $1 million track and its supporting facilities will account for about 19 percent of the city’s recreation and tourism-related debt, paid down every year by money from hospitality tax.
Last year, the city brought in more than $4.1 million from the food and beverage tax, Sunday alcohol permits and its 3 percent tax at hotels.
The BMX attraction will be a shot in the arm, Gibson said, to tax growth – predicted to pull in at least $5.1 million in fiscal year 2017 from the hotel and food tax.
Local business owner Robert Baker says he’s heard plenty of skepticism about the city’s borrowing money to build the track but thinks the investment is a good one.
Baker owns College Cycles on Oakland Avenue – a retail bike shop and repair store.
“It’s going to bring a lot of economic development to the city,” he said.
The BMX facility and other Riverwalk developments will attract “good corporate citizens” who want a place for their employees to play after work, Baker said.
A good “quality of life,” Baker said, will entice employers to locate in Rock Hill.
NASCAR and Formula One driver Max Papis said he agrees that the BMX track will put Rock Hill “on the map.”
Papis brings his children, ages 4 and 6, to use the mountain bike trails and the Giordana Velodrome at Riverwalk.
Papis, a North Carolina resident, lives about 50 miles from Rock Hill.
“Without the velodrome, I would have never even known where Rock Hill is,” he said.
A native of Italy, where “cycling is like NASCAR for the Charlotte area,” Papis said he grew up near a velodrome and wants his kids to enjoy cycling, too.
Rock Hill’s velodrome is an “amazing thing,” he said.
The velodrome and construction needed to support the cycling facility such as an access road cost about $5 million.
The city makes interest-only payments of $250,000 every year from hospitality tax to pay for the velodrome. In 2019, $1.2 million of the loan will be forgiven, under the real estate’s qualification for federal new market tax credits.
Economic stimulus money and $700,000 in corporate sponsorship pledges for Riverwalk contribute to paying for the velodrome cost.
Spending taxpayer money at Riverwalk is no different than the government building roads and bridges, Baker said, but he understands if people question the city’s investment in recreation and tourism.
“It’s important to question government – it keeps them on their toes,” he said.
Once the BMX track is on line, Baker hopes Rock Hill schools will form cycling teams as school districts have done in Los Angeles.
Rock Hill’s push to be a bicycle-friendly community is important to public health, Baker said.
The rising cost of gasoline for cars and more doctors who prescribe “one bicycle a day,” he said, have helped his business.
Rock Hill’s plans to paint bike lanes in the city’s “college town” area of Winthrop and downtown, he said, will probably boost his sales.
Painting “sharrows” – stretches where cyclists use the same traffic lane as cars – from Cherry Road to Wilson Street along Oakland Avenue near Winthrop University is projected to cost $6,600.
City planners have identified 15 streets that could be connected by bike lanes in the “college town” district.
The plan for what is dubbed as bicycle “corridors” could cost up to $300,000 to implement. Funding for the plan has not yet been identified.
Rock Hill is using $40,000 from a federal grant to start the work.
“Yes, they’re spending money but it’s providing jobs,” and adding to quality of life, Baker said.