OLDSMAR — The organization that oversees BMX racing in the United States has agreed to sign a letter of intent with Oldsmar to designate a proposed Olympic-style track here as an official training facility and also to hold more races here.
"Although it is not in writing yet, what the letter will show is (USA BMX) is making a commitment to hold more multi-year events as well as having the track designated as an official USA BMX training facility,'' City Manager Bruce Haddock said.
Haddock, leisure services director Lynn Rives, and Kevin Smith, director of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Sports Commission, traveled to Arizona Feb. 3 to seek an agreement from USA BMX officials.
"It was a very productive session, a very productive meeting,'' Haddock told council members during the Feb. 4 City Council meeting. "We set some targets and goals and plan to have a letter of intent approved by both parties — that would be the city and USA BMX — prior to the Gator Nationals next month and to have the new and expanded track operating in 12 months."
The council chambers erupted in applause.
BMX stands for bicycle motocross. Since 2002, the city has operated Oldsmar BMX, a track at Canal Park. It not only is a popular city recreational facility, it also is recognized internationally as the home of the annual USA BMX Gator Nationals. Last year that event drew participants from 38 states and 16 countries.
About a year ago, Haddock, Rives, Smith and John David, chief operating officer of USA BMX, began working on a plan to expand the BMX facility and build a track for the sport's most elite athletes.
The new track they have proposed would be similar to one at the U. S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., near San Diego. It would include a 26-foot-tall starting hill, and riders would be able to go faster and confront more challenging obstacles, said John Sawyer, director of Oldsmar BMX.
More bleachers and two announcing towers would also be added.
Beginning BMXers would not be forgotten. The new facility would also include a 14- to 16-foot starting hill for amateur riders.
The biggest challenge is funding the estimated $1.2 million construction cost. The city has earmarked $200,000 from its own coffers, but Haddock hopes the city also can get $1.1 million of Pinellas County hotel bed tax revenue. In October, the city submitted a request for those dollars to the Pinellas County Commission.
The city faces stiff competition for those dollars from other groups, including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which wants to build a new aquarium on the downtown Clearwater waterfront.
County Commission chairwoman Karen Seel will visit Oldsmar later this week to tour the site where the track would be built. Oldsmar is a small city, but Seel said that in recent years, tourism and economic opportunities have expanded there.
"First, Oldsmar is a pretty destination, and the growth in Oldsmar has been really quite phenomenal. There's a nice industrial base of businesses and I also think of hotels and motels that have been built,'' she said.
Oldsmar officials have been concerned since learning in September that the Sarasota County Commission approved an ordinance allowing tourist development tax dollars to fund capital projects. At the top of that county's list: an Olympic-level BMX racing facility.
During last week's Oldsmar council meeting, Mayor Doug Bevis said that the pending letter of intent from USA BMX is especially valuable given the situation in Sarasota.
"Bruce and I have been meeting with elected officials who could fund some money, but the real big issue we've been up against, and we had to emphasize, is that the County Commission in Sarasota has approved $1 million to fund a similar type of project, although they really don't have the endorsement of (USA BMX). So, this is exciting.''
Pat Calhoun of the Sarasota County parks department said their current track has hosted only regional events, nothing like the size of the Gator Nationals.
"But once our new track is done, we hope to draw large events,'' he said. "Sure, there might be competition between the two tracks, but really BMX is such a fast-growing sport that there will probably be a synergy to it when it comes to coordinating training for riders between the two places.'''
Officials at USA BMX did not return a call for comment.
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.