Out on the north side of Avenida César Chávez and sandwiched between the Isotopes Stadium and the city tennis complex is a patch of land with potential. Or, to put it another way, it's a vacant lot comprised of rolling dirt piles and scattered chamisa that some day soon could be transformed into a world-class bicycle park.
That's the hope of Mayor Martin Chavez and cycling enthusiasts that held a press conference last week at Isotopes Stadium to talk up plans for the Albuquerque Bicycle Park that, when complete, will feature a BMX race course and velodrome track—a banked, wooden oval featuring road racing-style competition at high speeds.
"We need to capitalize on outdoor recreation as an economic development tool," the mayor said, "and make recreating a part of our culture and how we do business." In other words, it's high time the city takes full advantage of our days of bountiful blue sky, high altitude, open space and a dry climate that, with the right kind of thinking, could translate into an influx of cash to the local economy.
With this in mind, the mayor spoke of transforming the fallow land into something as magnificent as an Olympic training center for BMX and velodrome racers now that both sports are officially sanctioned at the 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing, China. Additionally, the mayor envisioned the park as a laboratory of sorts for Lovelace's respiratory research center and, as well, as a host of national and international racing competitions.
The mayor was flanked by Clayton John, president of the Phoenix-based American Bicycle Association, which exclusively represents BMX interests.
"I committed to bringing in national events and to bring in a world-class track," said John, adding that he hopes the facility will offer "a clinic and camp type atmosphere where kids all over the country can come and train."
He suggested dorms at UNM could house kids in summer, adding that the facility would be open every day, with special times designated for local kids. "We'll have loner bikes and helmets and such," he said.
The American Bicycle Association boasts 60,000 members, operates 27 BMX facilities around the country and sanctions over 10,000 racing events including the national championships. Referring to Albuquerque's altitude—which theoretically enables riders who train here to post better times when competing at lower elevations—John said, "This place is a dream come true."
While the park is still in the planning stage, the mayor sounded both hopeful and ambitious, suggesting that $2 million from a city bond passed in October 2003 expressly for the construction of a BMX and velodrome park, coupled with an estimated $2.8 million from Gov. Bill Richardson's capital outlay wish list under consideration at the current legislative session, will be enough to get the project going. Overall, the mayor said the park could cost $10 million to complete.
"I'm a pretty bad micro-manager and I tossed out the first set of plans," the mayor said, "It wasn't good enough."
The park will need support from private investors, foundations, corporate sponsors and the like, but so far there aren't any. But not to worry, the mayor said, since the final business plan hasn't been put together yet.
David Chauner, president of Philadelphia-based Threshold Sports, also flanked the mayor and called Albuquerque a dream location for cyclists of all talent levels. According to the company's website, "Threshold owns and operates the Pro Cycling Tour and creates and manages a variety of cycling events and special programs for corporate sponsors, nonprofit organizations and municipalities."
Chauner said he is an advisor for the project, helping the city put together a business plan by May intent on attracting corporate sponsorship to fray the public cost of constructing and operating the facility. He said his company "runs most major road races" in the United States.
Mayor Chavez said the park hopes to break ground this summer and will be privately managed once it's complete.
"We have about enough money, with what the governor has committed plus the bond money, to get the BMX track up," said Gail Reese, the city's chief financial officer, adding, "depending on how much roof you want."
The architectural rendering on display last week featured a 2,000 seat pavilion, without walls, but a roof covering the dirt track stretching 250 feet by 300 feet, and another roof covering the velodrome.
Because national championship BMX events attract up to 10,000 spectators, and during the last two years the event was stalled by rain in Salt Lake City and, of all places, Phoenix, having a roof is essential, said Don Dudley, a local architect working on the project.
Also, according to Kenth Fallen, a local BMX pro rider, there is no covered track in the nation at Albuquerque's elevation. Fallen, 27, began riding BMX at the Duke City track near Alameda and Fourth when he was 10, and is currently ranked 15th nationally in the top pro class.
His story reflects the bike park's real potential as a Mecca for professional riders. Although Fallen's income depends on dirt track racing, in 2003 he tried velodrome racing at the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs and discovered his times in the short sprints were competitive with some of the elite riders.
Meanwhile, the Southwest Velodrome Association owns a disassembled velodrome track that was shipped to Albuquerque after the 1999 Pan Am Games concluded in Canada, and after several world records were set on it. The wooden track presently sits on an industrial lot near I-25, but with the new bike park gaining momentum, the prospect, finally, of rebuilding the track here seems to be gaining momentum as well.
The prospect of both a BMX track and velodrome attracting attention in Albuquerque has Fallen seeing endless possibilities. "I think BMX racing will explode here," said Fallen. "Velodrome isn't as popular, not yet anyway. In Europe and Japan, it's like monster trucks here, it's huge. With Isotopes Stadium out there, a lot more people will see what's going on."
Fallen said national competitions would be ideal in Albuquerque, as well, thanks to parking and nearby hotels. The roof on the facility "would look like a monster billboard in center field for Isotopes fans," he said.
While a fitness assessment center and other amenities can be retro-fit later, it seems the planning will be centered on which track gets built first, but judging from remarks at the press conference, the BMX complex is the favorite.
"With a covering, restrooms and other basic support infrastructure, they can do (BMX) nationals here in the Spring of 2006," said Reese.
"We're stepping up and investing in our natural resources and we're going to make money on this one," said the mayor. "It's a good investment for the taxpayers."
In June, the American Bicycle Association is organizing a three-day national BMX event at Tingley Coliseum that expects 1,200 riders and 3,500 spectators from North America. John said he also hopes the event will attract local interest and signal a bright future for BMX racing in Albuquerque for years to come. "That's why we're doing it here," he said.