Rock Hill OKs $8.1 million for new bike track, tourism needs

A new tourism bond approved by the Rock Hill City Council on Monday will raise $8.1 million to spend on new tourism draws or pay for improvements at existing ones – in hopes additional activity will attract new visitors and spending.

The largest project the city paid for with the bond revenue is construction of a new criterium bicycle track at Riverwalk, near the velodrome and BMX Supercross course that already have made the city a cycling hub. The cost of the track itself will be a relatively small proportion of the bond – $500,000, in addition to $1.3 million contributed by Greens of Rock Hill, the site’s developer.

Another $1.75 million from the bond will pay for a new parking area adjacent to the criterium course, including facilities for RV parking. City parks director John Taylor said the mixed car and RV parking area will be set up on the infield of the 1.5 mile-, 20-foot-wide paved race course – enough space to host about 150 vehicles on race day.

Other improvements scheduled for the area include a new gravel and asphalt parking area for the BMX track ($300,000), new bleachers for the velodrome ($450,000) and parking spaces and washrooms for the Riverwalk trail ($575,000).

The city broke ground on the criterium course last October. A criterium is a bike race consisting of several laps around a closed circuit.

Another $1 million will pay for infrastructure improvements at Cherry Park, the largest of several items listed for the park. Many focus on the park’s athletic fields, with money set aside for softball field lighting ($375,000), concessions and restroom facilities ($400,000), and new scoreboards, public address system and lightning detectors ($125,000).

“This is a multi-purpose facelift for the whole park,” Taylor said. “Concrete work, new lighting, new fencing – all over the park.”

All improvements are intended to boost tourism activity in Rock Hill. The enhanced facilities at Cherry Park and Hargett Park – where $800,000 will be spent to improve drainage around the athletic fields – will allow the parks to annually host more than 35 “sports tourism events,” like traveling tournaments, attracting an estimated 55,000 people and $6 million in economic impact, according to the bond ordinance approved by the City Council.

Likewise, the velodrome and BMX track combined create $3.5 million in economic impact annually, both in terms of money spent on local businesses and tax revenue for the city, and the criterium course is expected to host several national cycling events once it opens next year.

In total, the city estimates sports tourism has had a $121.9 million economic impact on the city since 2006, with $21.5 million projected to be spent in connection with sporting events this year alone.

Other items on the list include $250,000 for a new kayak and canoe launch at River Park, $300,000 to buy property on Edgemont Road near Glencairn Garden for a new parking lot, and $700,000 for a right-lane-only exit out of Cherry Park.

The bond will be paid off over 15 years.

By Bristow Marchant, Staff Reporter with The Herald