Thursday, May 24, 2018
Business

Officials: Oldsmar could be home to Olympic-style BMX facility

OLDSMAR — This North Pinellas city of almost 14,000 may be the future home of an Olympic-style BMX track, only the nation's second.

Officials announced Tuesday night that USA BMX, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission and the city are in talks about building the $650,000 sports facility.

It would attract riders and fans from around the world, said John David, chief operating officer of USA BMX. American Olympians now training in Europe, for lack of venues at home, would likely move to Oldsmar, he said.

"Year-round, you'd have people coming from everywhere for races and weeks of training," David said. "They'd stay at the local hotels, eat at the local restaurants, work out at the local gyms. Our aspiring athletes in the U.S. struggle to get on a track of that caliber. They've been literally waiting for one to open."

The only similar Olympic-style track in the United States, officials said, is at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center, a complex near San Diego that has venues for the Olympic sports of archery, BMX, canoeing/kayaking, cycling, field hockey, rowing, soccer, softball, tennis, track and field, and triathlon.

But don't look for construction in Oldsmar soon. First, the city, USA BMX and the Pinellas County Convention & Visitors Bureau must reach a planning agreement.

And they need to figure out where to get the money. One possible source: Pinellas County's 5 percent tax on lodging.

"We all want it to happen," Oldsmar City Manager Bruce Haddock said Wednesday. "We're just in the very early stages."

Why Oldsmar?

The city is an ideal location, David said, because its own BMX track, built in 2001 at the city's Canal Park on Tampa Road and renovated in 2009, has been wildly successful. Each March, it hosts the Gator Nationals, now one of the largest BMX competitions in North America. Last year, people from 43 states and 16 countries attended. Ninety percent of attendees, David said, came two hours or more from Oldsmar.

BMX became an Olympic sport in 2008 and has since grown steadily.

"We've gotten to the point that Gator Nationals alone has gotten too big for the existing track," David said. "So, we thought, if we're already making it bigger, why not make it world class? Something no one else has?"

The proposed track, including bigger bleachers and two new announcing towers, would be built over the clay BMX courses and one baseball field in Canal Park.

It would be divided into two courses: Olympic, with a 26-foot starting hill for elite athletes, and beginner, which would be gentle enough for 8-year-olds on miniature bikes.

BMX would provide the design and engineering, David said, and front some of the cost. Oldsmar and the county would also pitch in, Haddock said.

"But," Haddock said, "we haven't divided up the funding yet."

Officials hope the proposed track would qualify for revenue from the county hotel bed tax, which raises about $25 million annually. But there is heavy competition for those funds, and several local projects want the money once bonds for the construction of Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg are paid off in 2015. The Tampa Bay Rays want a new stadium. And the Clearwater Marine Aquarium wants a new $160 million aquarium in downtown Clearwater.

Oldsmar Vice Mayor Jerry Beverland said the Olympic-style track would benefit the city, county and beaches.

"All four of our (Oldsmar) hotels are completely packed every year during the Gator Nationals," Beverland said. "This track already brings so many visitors. Just imagine hosting events of that size more frequently."

Kevin Smith, director of the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission, said he attended an International Olympic Committee meeting in Switzerland last November.

At Tuesday's Oldsmar City Council meeting where the plan was announced, Smith, who works to attract international athletic events to Pinellas, said he saw only two American cities on a list of potential BMX event venues.

"One was in California," he told the council, "and one was Oldsmar."

But the track-development process is slow, he said. Every party must put together facts and figures, make sure regulations are followed, get everything right the first time.

"This is something that's lightning in a bottle," Smith said. "It doesn't come by very often."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.

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