With well over 5,000 bicyclists of all ages and races riding Slow Roll Detroit each week in warmer months the interest is at an all time high for a bike racing destination. By fall, spectators and riders will have the ultimate challenge, an indoor velodrome built with the help of the Detroit Parks and Recreation.
“Our goal is to provide kids with opportunities to turn the Olympic dream into a reality,” says Dale Hughes, executive director of the Detroit Fitness Foundation. “I’ve had the honor of working on projects around the world, but I am thrilled to bring the state-of-the-art indoor complex to my backyard in the city of Detroit.”
A $4-million complex erected on Tolan Playfield at I-75 and Mack Avenue will feature three main components or “fields of play.” This includes a world-class velodrome cycling track, running, walking and in-line skating lanes and a multi-purpose infield and coffee shop/cafe.
Hughes and his team had hoped to locate a velodrome on Gratiot and St. Aubin next to the trail head of the Dequindre Cut, but neighbors wouldn’t approve the zoning. This time around, Hughes gathered support of Councilwoman Mary Sheffield, City of Detroit Planning Director Maurice Cox and Dave Miller, director of Detroit Parks and Recreation.
“This is a one of a kind opportunity,” says Miller. “A chance for children and seniors to exercise all year round. Some of the kids may compete in the Olympics.”
Frankie Andreu, a nine time competitor in the Tour de France, got his start in cycling from Hughes’ father-in-law, the late Mike Walden, who trained Olympic and Tour de France stars at the outdoor velodrome on Detroit’s east side. He also trained city kids on Belle Isle for numerous years.
Hughes took a different lane. Beyond programming sporting events, he has designed and built more than 20 velodromes worldwide, including the 1996 Olympic Velodrome in Atlanta and the 2015 Pan Am Games Velodrome in Toronto. Detroit will house the second permanent indoor cycling velodrome in the U.S.
When the track is built, Hughes envisions up to 500 people watching bicycle races on Friday and Saturday nights and thousands watching on internet. People from ages 8 to 80 may be competitors.
“This project is a perfect illustration of how you reignite a city neighborhood and its public space by leveraging our city resources to attract investment, jobs and a community resource such as this complex to better serve our community,” says Detroit Councilwoman Mary Sheffield.
“The youth of Detroit deserve a world-class facility such as this and I’m proud to be part of a city and a city council that is making it a reality,” she says.
Detroit has had a long history of bike lore. At the turn of the 20th century bike racing was the hottest sport around. When the old Olympia Stadium opened on Grand River Avenue, people watched bike races as much as hockey games.
In recent years bike riding has exploded with organized rides such as Slow Roll, the Hub, and the People for Palmer Park and the Belle Isle Riders going out almost nightly in warmer months. The Dequindre Cut, a rail spur turned linear park from the Detroit River to Eastern Market, draws hundreds nightly to bike, walk and in-line skate.
Tolan Field will become an epicenter of activity, even beyond the velodrome. The nonprofit Detroit Fitness Foundation will donate $125,000 for additional outdoor improvements to the park and the city has committed $250,000 for playground equipment, a picnic shelter and tables, fitness station, skateboard ramp and horseshoe pits.
The foundation is actively seeking a title sponsor to name the velodrome and funds to hire trainers to coach youth and lead them to grandeur.
“This is a chance for kids to achieve their dreams, whether they seek to attain a college scholarship, prepare for national and global competitions or qualify for the U.S. Olympic cycling team,” says Hughes.
He hopes to train youth to do just that.