Communities across the country are adding BMX to their parks and rec programs—and helping fuel Olympic dreams
Much like skateboarding, until recently, BMX racing has had little public awareness as a “sport,” leading many municipal parks departments to assume it appealed to only small groups. But with the Olympics successfully adding BMX racing to its docket in the 2008 Beijing Games, that awareness – and demand for facilities – is on the rise, for a number of reasons:
Momentum. With more people exposed to the sport during the Olympics, more and more interest is stirring, particularly for nontraditional sports that have appeal to all ages.
Organization. Unlike skateboarding, BMX racing is an organized, competitive activity with a point system, rankings, and a sanctioning body. With that organization comes insurance, administrative support, expert resources, and other guidance and assurance for communities interested in adding a BMX track to their offerings.
Revenue. Because BMX racing hinges on competitive events, there is built-in revenue opportunity for track owners and operators. The fees involved with events and practice time are typically enough to maintain and operate the park, often with some profits left over. Add to that the intangible benefits that hosting larger-scale events at a track can bring – from out-of-towners visiting local businesses and restaurants to increased need for lodging – and these tracks have the potential to be major economic drivers.
With its reputation and history as a cycling city, the City of Rock Hill, South Carolina is also seizing the opportunity to become a national hub for BMX racing. The Novant Health BMX Supercross Track transformed an abandoned brownfield site along the city’s Riverwalk into only the second Olympic-caliber Supercross track in the US, and the first built specifically for the general public. (The Supercross track in Chula Vista, California is home to the BMX US Olympic Training Center.) The Rock Hill track includes a 32-foot-tall starting hill for professional and Olympic training uses as well as a smaller starting hill for beginners.
A similar effort is in the works in Austin, Texas, where ESPN has relocated the Summer X Games for at least the next four years. Already home to a freestyle BMX park in downtown Austin, the county saw the potential of capitalizing on their growing link to BMX, putting up nearly $3 million for a new, world-class racing track. Owned by the county but operated by a local nonprofit BMX organization, the new track is also designed to meet varying skill levels.
So if your community is interested in BMX, how do you figure out if a BMX track might be a good fit?
Evaluate the competition. How close are other competitive tracks? If you’re seeking to become a BMX hub, being one of five in the area may not help you reach that goal.
Assess the land available. Lot size, zoning regulations, accessibility, and many other factors will determine whether a BMX park could work in a given area. Getting professionals on board to help with that determination can streamline the process since they know the ins and outs of track design. USA BMX can help a city in making those connections.
Assess funding options. Like with other public projects, funding for BMX tracks can come from a variety of places, ranging from special bonds and city budgets to private investment. USA BMX helps communities keep their overhead and operational costs as low as possible by providing operational and marketing support for a new track and overseeing the track design and construction process.
Get help. USA BMX has a guidebook on starting a track that explains the process and key considerations. They have a team of experts who, as former racers, park professionals, and city officials, understand the specific needs of BMX tracks and the passion of those who race and guide track developers through the process.
*This is an abridged version of “Rolling with New Trends,” which ran in the February 2014 issue of Parks & Rec Business magazine.
About the Author
Mike McIntyre, a former sponsored skateboarder and current Nationally-ranked BMX racer, has turned a passion into a profession, tapping his knowledge as a user to inform his creativity and design expertise. A licensed landscape architect who believes that a skate park should be a park you can skate in, Mike has helped pioneer such movements as the “skate plaza”, “wheel friendly-barrier free plaza and municipal level Supercross BMX Facilities”.More Content by Mike McIntyre