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Marian College wants to create alternative-transportation hub, community center at Velodrome

December 8, 2008
Marian College wants to take over operation of the Major Taylor Velodrome from Indy Parks and make the facility a hub for alternative transportation and Midwestern cycling.

Marian hopes to have a deal signed with city officials in early 2009.

"We have a memorandum of understanding in place, and we're meeting this month to get things ironed out," said Dean Peterson, Marian's head cycling coach and an instructor at the private Catholic university on Cold Spring Road, north of West 30th Street. "Things look positive."

Indy Parks officials emphasized that the deal is not complete.

Peterson is hopeful an agreement will be finalized by or before March, and that Marian can proceed with a multifaceted marketing initiative intended to bolster bicycle racing and attendance at the track just north of Marian's campus.

"We're not going to get all of this done in the next six months, but we hope to have a strong start in 2009," Peterson said.

Indy Parks spokeswoman Paula Freund said the city intends to maintain oversight of the facility. "Marian has some strong ideas about sustainability, and we're excited about that," Freund said. "We feel this could be a strong public-private partnership."

In addition to bringing in a variety of track cycling races — from world-class events to those open to all comers — Marian wants to build a three-fourths-mile road course around and adjacent to the Velodrome for racing, training and riding classes. A weekly road race series could begin next summer.

Marian's plan also includes enhancing off-road riding infrastructure for BMX, mountain and cyclecross bikes, as well as a two-mile perimeter loop for walking, running and leisure riding. Combined with trails in the Marian College EcoLab, an outdoor nature preserve of sorts, the new loop would make available a walking/hiking trail of almost five miles. Enhancing activities at the adjacent skate board park and Rugby field also are part of the plan.

Marian also plans to develop the facility as a hub to support a park-and-ride program, linking the Velodrome to downtown, the north side and other areas via a network of bike trails. The complex also would be connected to various points around the city via IndyGo bus lines. Velodrome locker and bathroom facilities could be opened for commuters. Activities such as after-work spin classes at the nearby Marian College Cycling Center — on the school's campus less than a half mile from the Velodrome — also would be incorporated into the plan.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization Manager Mike Dearing thinks the Velodrome's proximity to Interstate 65 and several major roads, multiple trail networks and bus lines makes it an ideal "multi-modal transportation hub."

"Anytime we hear this type of interest in alternative and multi-modal transportation from the private sector, it's very exciting," said Dearing, who added that he has not yet talked to Marian officials directly. "This plan seems logical, and forming appropriate partnerships is critical to making it happen. I think this has a lot of potential."

Those in the cycling community think the initiative will not only boost the profile of the sport, but also elevate the status of the city.

"In the 1980s, when this facility was built, Indianapolis was fast becoming a cycling mecca, then it fizzled due to a lack of funding and attention," said Brian Gootee, owner of Gray Goat Sports, a cycling and fitness store on South East Street, south of Thompson Road. "We have to make amenities a priority in this city. I can't tell you how many times a week we're asked where the infrastructure for bicycling in this community is. Those types of amenities are what make people want to live and work here."

Peterson said the plan goes beyond two-wheeled activities. Marian officials want to host school field trips and summer camps at the Velodrome and Marian's nearby Eco-Lab, making it a place kids can learn about physical fitness and environmental issues.

"We think with the recent emphasis put on issues such as childhood obesity and overall green living, this is a perfect time for this initiative," Peterson said.

Marian's initiative also comes on the heels of Mayor Greg Ballard's announced plans to make the city more bike-friendly with 200 miles of dedicated bicycle lanes on city streets. The implementation of the 15-year plan will begin next spring.

One issue Marian officials are studying closely is the facility's budget.

"We think we can increase programming and make this a self-sustaining operation," Peterson said. He added that Marian doesn't plan to profit financially from the arrangement. "It would be break-even," he added.

Just getting to break-even will be a challenge. The Velodrome's operating budget this year is $109,840 and year-to-date revenue is $41,527, according to Indy Parks. Next year, the city is budgeting $98,893 for operations. Gray Goat's Gootee said it's not enough.

"That facility is underutilized and underfunded," he said. "Outsourcing might be a good way to get some fresh blood, fresh ideas and new resources into that facility."

Indy Parks officials conceded that rest rooms and locker facilities along with concession stands at the Velodrome need work. Peterson said Marian's plan can help address those shortcomings.

Marian officials are already discussing advertising and sponsorship possibilities with area businesses to help bolster funding.

"We think there are businesses that will want to be a part of this plan," Peterson said. "Greater utilization of the facility means increased exposure for them."

Nancy Tibbett, Indiana Bicycle Coalition executive director, thinks Peterson and Marion will make strong partners because of Peterson's contacts in the local, regional and national cycling world. "I think with the contacts and proposed ideas they have, they could expand funding for that facility and erase the operational deficit within two or three years."

Peterson admits that raising Marian's profile through its management of a city landmark and raising the profile of its already nationally acclaimed cycling program are attractive to the school's leadership, but those are not the primary objectives.

"We're looking to utilize a community asset so that it can be truly valued by the masses," Peterson said.
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