OLDSMAR — One of the sporting jewels of the Tampa Bay area closed last month with little warning, and no one knows when it might reopen.
Oldsmar’s state-of-the-art BMX track in Canal Park has hosted national competitions and Olympic hopefuls. The city has invested millions maintaining and renovating the track, which opened in 2002.
But on April 11, the city announced in a Facebook post that a “routine inspection” showed “areas of concern” in the track. The course would have to close indefinitely.
The announcement — and its few details — prompted immediate and intense online speculation from the local BMX community. Some feared the city would close the track permanently.
Felicia Donnelly, Oldsmar’s assistant city manager, said that’s not the case.
Last year, the city put crack monitors on the walls of the track after an inspection by an engineering firm, Donnelly said. Recently, those monitors showed evidence the walls had shifted over time.
On Tuesday, the City Council plans to vote on a work order to hire a structural engineer to diagnose what’s causing the walls to shift.
“At this point we can’t surmise what the problem is,” Donnelly said. “We have taken the precaution to close the track until we’ve secured definitive answers from a professional engineer.”
Bicycle motocross, or BMX, racing is a sport as thrilling as it is chaotic. Professional riders start from atop a hill as high as 26 feet, throw themselves across jumps and careen around 180-degree turns in a mad dash to the finish line.
It’s difficult to find BMX facilities with a professional-grade starting hill, but Oldsmar has one. It was added in 2015 as part of an ambitious $2.1 million renovation project.
Those renovations were ultimately well received, but the construction process was a painful one for the city. Three weeks before the track’s grand reopening, Oldsmar fired the contractor in charge of the renovation.
The city said the firm did not pay some of its subcontractors, officials said at the time. The city also alleged the company didn’t use the resources necessary to finish the job to its specifications and that the firm failed to consistently keep a superintendent on the construction site.
Oldsmar took over what was left of the renovations. According to a Tampa Bay Times article from 2015, city officials were in a hurry to finish cosmetic tweaks to the track ahead of that year’s Gator Nationals BMX event. At one point in the days leading up to the competition, Mayor Doug Bevis personally helped lay sod at the revamped facility.
When asked whether the bumpy renovation project of 2015 may have contributed to the current shutdown, Donnelly said the city won't know until a structural engineer weighs in.
Ken LaCroix, 50, a regular at the Oldsmar track, said an indefinite closure could hurt BMX locally. He said that during the renovation months in 2015, many kids lost interest in the sport.
As spring turns to summer, a prolonged closure could also threaten the summer camps that help grow BMX.
LaCroix has a personal interest in the track as well. His son, Andre, 21, is a local BMX professional who has his eyes on Tokyo.
“We’re trying to get him to the 2020 Olympic games,” LaCroix said.
T.A. Craig, 71, whose grandson is a recent BMX convert, said rumors are running wild, and he's not sure what to believe absent more information from the city.
“I don’t know what’s what, or who’s where,” Craig said.
LaCroix said BMX devotees all over the world are wondering about the fate of Oldsmar BMX. At one of Andre’s recent competitions in Costa Rica, LaCroix said he fielded question after question about his home track.
Donnelly said that the city is moving as quickly as it can to update worried members of the BMX community on its local training grounds.
“We want people to know,” the Oldsmar official said. “We just don’t have information yet.”
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
Contact Kirby Wilson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8783, Follow @kirbywtweets.