Friday, February 27, 2009

Build It and They Will Come...Ask Manchester UK

Part of the Toronto Pan Am Games bid will include the construction of a new world-class velodrome to be built in the City of Hamilton. This facility will be in addition to a new stadium in Hamilton that hopes to be the future home a professional soccer team.

Mopping up after Mayor Fred's big win
February 25, 2009
Andrew Dreschel
The Hamilton Spectator

(Feb 25, 2009)
He gets tagged when he loses a big vote, so let's give him a hand when he wins one.

Take a bow, Mayor Fred, for prevailing in the great Pan Am Games debate.

Right from the giddy-up, Eisenberger championed Hamilton's participation in the Toronto/southern Ontario bid and kept the pressure on until the finish line was crossed in a flying 12-3 vote.

Eisenberger is, of course, too dryly reasonable to speak passionately about anything.

But, during the debate, his hard sell of the stadium as a bold and creative investment in the city's future was as reasonable a facsimile of fervour as we're ever likely to get from him.

He called the Games a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to leverage millions of dollars from the province and feds to help build a replacement stadium for Never Wynne.

He dismantled arguments that the initial $60 million for the facility is coming at the expense of infrastructure spending.

He cited other initiatives the city is spending millions on, from the QEW pedestrian bridge to upgrades to the market and library.

He pointed out there's more to infrastructure than fixing potholes.

And he spoke optimistically about the stadium encouraging development and generating other waterfront and downtown investment.

All in all, it was a strong message strongly delivered.

Mind you, the visionary torch Eisenberger was waving had already dazzled most of the other councillors.

A win is a win, but this was one big vote that was never really in doubt, despite the best efforts of Councillor Sam Merulla to whip up opposition.

Besides Merulla, only Brad Clark and Margaret McCarthy argued the city simply can't afford to indulge its pie-in-the-sky appetites given its already lengthy list of unfunded capital projects and a debt load approaching $1 billion.

I share their concerns, but it doesn't seem those red flags are widely flown in the community. People generally seem more enchanted by the vision than leery of the financial burden.

As Councillor Maria Pearson rightly pointed out before the vote, the council chambers weren't exactly crammed with anti-stadium protesters.

Still, a couple of mopping up points should be made before council ratifies the vote tonight.

To begin with, there's no question a new football facility would give this city a tremendous psychological boost.

But it's passing strange that councillors can seriously argue a new city-owned stadium will jump-start development in the core when Copps Coliseum, Hamilton Place or the Convention Centre don't seem to have had that effect.

It's also ironic councillors such as Terry Whitehead who roundly criticized Hamilton Health Sciences for only consulting the public after they had already decided on a restructuring plan are quite willing to do the same.

First, they selected a stadium site at the harbour; now, they're going to talk to the public about it.

True, if an environmental assessment goes wrong, they'll have to build elsewhere.

But how is that process any different than what HHS did?

On the other hand, I suspect Whitehead is right on target when he says the velodrome may be Hamilton's "sleeper" legacy if Toronto wins the bid in November.

The bicycle racing arena stands to make Hamilton the destination for high-performance provincial and national competitions, as well as the training ground for future Olympians.

And at $11.5 million -- of which $5 million will be paid by the city -- both the cost and the vision don't require the kind of finger-crossing Hail Mary pass a stadium calls for.

City in hot pursuit - Sports - City in hot pursuit
Pan Am velodrome would make Hamilton Canada's cycling centre With Hamilton's natural attributes, the escarpment and plenty of rural routes, Andrew Iler feels Hamilton could be Canada's premier cycling centre of excellence.

John Kernaghan
The Hamilton Spectator

(Jan 10, 2009)
Many stars need to align, but Hamilton has a shot at becoming a very big wheel in global cycling circles.

A world-class velodrome proposed for the 2015 Pan Am Games bid by the Canadian Cycling Centre Hamilton would be the only international-standard indoor track in North America east of Los Angeles.

Hamilton lawyer Andrew Iler has put the pedal to the metal on the initiative with a feasibility study/business plan that will be unveiled soon. Iler, an avid cyclist who is president of the cycling centre based at McMaster University, is in Manchester this weekend putting the final touches on his research.

Manchester's velodrome is home to England's national cycling centre, a node that is responsible for that nation's rapid rise to 13 medals, eight of them gold, at last summer's Olympics.

Proponents argue such a facility here would be a logical extension of Hamilton's triumph in staging the 2003 road world championships and building on the cycling centre at Mac, which was a legacy of those races.

The Hamilton-based National Cycling Centre is one of five high-performance centres in Canada under the Canadian Cycling Association. It provides coaching for elite athletes, runs youth programs and organizes training camps in conjunction with the Ontario Cycling Association.

And with Hamilton's natural attributes, the escarpment and plenty of rural routes, Iler feels Hamilton could be Canada's premier cycling centre of excellence.

After all, the current Hamilton centre has complimentary sports science and sports medicine expertise at its finger tips at Mac.

But Iler is acutely aware of the general view of velodromes, especially in light of the fate of the one built for the Montreal Olympics in 1976.

"We plan to propose a facility that can host events from local recreational cycling to the Pan Am Games and the Olympics," he says.

But it can't be the gold-plated $150-million kind in London for the 2012 Olympics or Glasgow's 2014 Commonwealth Games velodrome.

The Montreal track became known as a white elephant and was eventually converted into a biodome with indoor zoo.

Iler has an animal of different stripes in mind, a functional facility that will have legs in terms of legacy.

"Integration with the community through connections with recreational and school programs is very important."

He said while a velodrome with, say 3,000 seats, would be built for the Pan Am Games, it can't be operated solely as an elite training centre.

Rather, he turns the equation around, noting the facility plus lots of recreational use, especially by children, equals more and more elite athletes Hamilton can send around the world. The experience in Manchester and the Lehigh Valley Cycling Centre in Trexeltown, Pa., which has a large 333-metre outdoor track, is that the kids programs spawn athletes who move to other cycling disciplines, like road, mountain and BMX.

Iler believes the same thing would happen here.

The model that is working for the Forest City Velodrome in London, Ont. is encouraging.

The non-for-profit operation needs about four members on the recreational side for each competitor. The tiny track draws cyclists from as far away as New York and Chicago to participate in training camps.

"We're here for people to have fun," says Forest City principal Rob Good. "We're here for the kids, the competitors and if someone says 'I'm not a racer, that's cool, we have a program for rec riders."

Good said he quit cycling at 21 because it was solely a competitive game. Now he's helping the young at heart stay in the activity.

"We built it and they came. Now it is a big adult recreational pursuit, with 80 per cent of our membership riding for fun. We'd go broke without them."

But to host a major event, a minimum 250-metre track is required.

The Hamilton plan will have plenty of barriers to leap.

First, will the 2015 Toronto bid staff recommend a temporary or permanent velodrome?

Hamilton's contact with the 2015 staff, Tourism Hamilton executive director David Adames, hopes the city gets to put Iler's proposal to an as yet unnamed bid board.

But Adames notes the city could well have competition for what would be a jewel of the 2015 Games. Curt Harnett, the Olympic and Pan Am track cycling star, has been approached by two groups asking for advice, but declined to name them.

But Vaughn and Markham in York Region consistently bubble up in amateur sports circles.

Harnett hopes for a permanent facility anywhere in the Golden Horseshoe area, but says access to specialists in sports science and sports medicine is a key to making the elite aspect work.

He notes it would take a six- to eight-year ramp-up period for a new facility to begin producing world-class athletes.

While recreational use is important, what sparked the Canadian Olympic Committee to designate southern Ontario for the bid is the absence of first-class places to train in Canada's most populous area.

Canadian Cycling Association president John Tolkamp said a velodrome in the Golden Horseshoe area would help kick-start the sport in Canada.

And Ontario Cycling Association executive director Jim Crosscombe is excited by the prospect, but points out his organization hasn't been consulted by Toronto 2015 staff yet.

"It's been surprisingly quiet."

Over in England it has been almost $90 million Cdn. loud in the past month. Sparked by the country's Olympic success and with an eye to 2012, Sport England and the national lottery organization committed about $45 million each to Olympic preparation and grass roots cycling.


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