One Spark 2015: Creator Wants to Restore the VelodromeApril 10, 2015 6 comments Print Article
According to USA Cycling, spectators once flocked to track cycling races much like NASCAR fans do today. Velodrome racing was a popular sport in the U.S from the early 1800s to the 1930s and has been a part of the Olympic Games since 1896. Currently, there are about 26 working velodromes across the country and many more overseas. Jacksonville’s velodrome is located off of Beaver Street just north of Interstate 10. However, it hasn’t been regularly used for cycling in more than 20 years. It rests on land now owned by the state of Florida and managed by the city of Jacksonville. Find out about the One Spark Creator who wants to restore it after the jump!
The dark, overgrown swath of land that contains the remnants of an old concrete cycling facility in Jacksonville might dismay some people, but Charles Fetzer sees an overlooked opportunity.
Fetzer is the leader of a group of cycling enthusiasts in Jacksonville who want to restore the old Wally McGregor Velodrome by spreading awareness with their
creator project No. 22063 at One Spark 2015. They are seeking $15,000 in funding to clean up and develop the existing velodrome as well as create a parking area at the site.
In addition to cycling races, Fetzer imagines the facility would be used as an educational venue to teach children how to change bicycle tires, ride in traffic, eat healthier and live a healthy life.
“I grew up riding my bike just like any other kid,” Fetzer said.
Fetzer has lived in Jacksonville for 35 years. Today, he and his brother, Mark, own LakeShore Bicycles & Fitness, a bicycle shop located off Blanding Boulevard that’s been operating in Jacksonville since 1961.
In addition to One Spark funding, Fetzer said he needs a group of devoted volunteers to support the movement and lobby to gain public access from the city and the state. The group could form as a non-profit and create a maintenance contract with the city of Jacksonville to make the facility fully functional.
“I think the velodrome would be just one more piece of the cycling puzzle put together here,” Fetzer said.
A velodrome is an arena for track cycling, a sport in which racers speed around the track at speeds of up to 50 mph on aerodynamic bicycles.
According to USA Cycling, spectators once flocked to track cycling races much like NASCAR fans do today. Velodrome racing was a popular sport in the U.S from the early 1800s to the 1930s and has been a part of the Olympic Games since 1896. Currently, there are about 26 working velodromes across the country and many more overseas.
Jacksonville’s velodrome is located off of Beaver Street just north of Interstate 10. However, it hasn’t been regularly used for cycling in more than 20 years. It rests on land now owned by the state of Florida and managed by the city of Jacksonville.
Fetzer said Wally McGregor, a Korean Air Force veteran of World War II, originally built the velodrome in the mid-1980s, but never held an official race. McGregor used it to hold special events and for his own private gatherings.
Before McGregor could officially open the velodrome to the public, he died at age 59 in 1989. McGregor’s widow, Lottie, later sold the property and the state bought it in 2006.
Fetzer said he’s talked to the city about restoring the velodrome, but there’s been some resistance.
“They don’t see what the financial reward could be for the city of Jacksonville and what it could do,” Fetzer said. “Parks make a city. North Florida just doesn’t realize what resources it has and what is here.”
The local cycling community is eager to have a functional velodrome in the area.
“It’s something definitely we’re super interested in,” said Scott Reeves, president of Velobrew Cycling Club, a competitive group based in Jacksonville that began in 2001.
The club’s cycling team is registered with USA Cycling and competes in events all over the region. Reeves has lived in Jacksonville for 15 years, but is originally from Sydney, Australia.
Reeves said having a velodrome in the city would put Jacksonville on the map as a cycling destination.
“I think Jacksonville is starting to establish itself as an athletic health destination,” Reeves said. “There’s probably 200 to 250 active members in VeloBrew that would be very interested.”
This isn’t the first time groups have tried to restore the velodrome. Aaron Fulton, a USA Cycling coach who has been racing in Florida for 12 years, went before Jacksonville City Council to propose a velodrome restoration project in 2012.
“We’re in a perfect spot to have a good velodrome,” Fulton said. “There’s just no money in the city budget for it.”
Fetzer said construction costs could approach a hefty $2.5 million.
The nearest veldoromes are five or more hours away in Miami and Atlanta, which would make Jacksonville a prime location for the facility.
Despite the interest from the cycling community, Fulton isn’t sure the current velodrome in Jacksonville could even be fully used for official races.
“It feels more like a warm-up track,” Fulton said. “I’m not even sure if it’s viable.”
Olympic and USA Cycling-endorsed velodromes, are usually about 250, 333 or 500 meters with around a 30- to 40-degree bank. In contrast, Charles Fetzer said the Wally McGregor track is about 300 meters and is very shallow, with an estimated 20-degree bank or less.
Brian Burket, a natural resource recreation specialist at the city of Jacksonville said a thorough investigation of the velodrome would need to occur before plans are made because the city has no blueprints of the structure from the original builder. He said there are also some safety issues with the property.
Burket said the city’s goal for the property is to develop a trailhead for hikers, bikers and equestrians that would connect the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail to the Cecil Recreational Trail.
Fetzer said improving the quality of life in Jacksonville is key to the city’s growth.
“If you make Jacksonville a fun and exciting place, people are going to come here in droves,” Fetzer said. “It just kind of explodes.”
Find out more at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jax-Velodrome/827225837307474
Story and Photo by Frances Hanold
#IgniteMedia News Bureau