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Velodrome backer sees perfect opportunity in Memorial Coliseum

Posted by on July 7th, 2009 at 11:09 am

Rendering of a bicycle velodrome on upper tier of Memorial Coliseum by Jeff Mitchem of Ankrom Moisan Architects

For nearly three years now, local track racer and business consultant Steve Brown has been working to find a home for a new velodrome in Portland. He’s appealed to the community for support, founded a non-profit, worked the legislature in Salem, tried to get one at the State Fairgrounds, and even tried to piggy-back on the ill-fated attempt to raze the Memorial Coliseum to make a new home for Portland’s minor league baseball team.

Now, Brown is eyeing another opportunity: he’s pinning hopes on an idea to build a velodrome inside Memorial Coliseum.

Story continues below

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Steve Brown wants a new velodrome in Portland
Steve Brown
(Photos © J. Maus)

The City of Portland is about to embark on a project to redevelop the entire Rose Quarter. Amy Ruiz, the planning and sustainability policy advisor for Mayor Sam Adams says they want it to be a “vibrant, mixed-use area” and that the Coliseum is “a critical component of the overall redevelopment.”

The City owns the Coliseum, but the Portland Trail Blazers hold first right of proposal for any changes that might occur. According to Mayor Adams’ Chief of Staff Tom Miller, the Blazers (and the Portland Development Commission) flew he and other City officials to Kansas City to see first-hand what their idea of an “entertainment complex” might look like.

“Portlanders would embrace track racing…and, if designed and built in concert with other things, it [the velodrome] could be a real attraction.”
– Tom Miller, Chief of Staff for Mayor Adams

That idea was panned in the local media as not fitting the Portland vibe and Miller said he and the PDC had concerns. He told me that, “Should the entertainment complex notion move forward, the only way it can succeed is if it has a distinctly Portland feel.”

How could the redevelopment have more of a Portland feel?

Miller realizes that the old track at Alpenrose Dairy is on its last legs and that, “Obviously track racking has a lot of support in this community.” Miller feels that putting a velodrome in the Coliseum or anywhere in the Rose Quarter, “would make this ‘entertainment complex’ more Portland-esque.”

“Portlanders would embrace track racing,” he said, “and, if designed and built in concert with other things, it [the velodrome] could be a real attraction.”

Miller and Brown have already met to discuss the idea. Miller says putting a track inside the Coliseum is “the most provocative and ambitious idea of all,” but at this point it’s, “just an idea.”

Alpenrose track clean-up day
Alpenrose is an aging facility,
miles from downtown Portland.

Brown likes the idea so much he had his friend, fellow racer and architect Jeff Mitchem, draw up what it might look like. After walking the site, Brown and Mitchem realized they could remove the upper bowl of seating and place the track around the Coliseum’s upper level. Brown feels that this would “provide a stunning visual use of the building,” and save it from demolition. In addition, with the track on the upper level, the floor space could still be used for other sports.

For Brown, the Coliseum would be a perfect location for the velodrome:

“When you think of it as being on Interstate Avenue, close to the Eastbank Esplanade, Light Rail, downtown, the Convention Center and the proposed Sullivan’s Gulch trail which would lead to the Gateway Green project, it really ties the bike theme together for the city. Having a covered public access facility to ride, train and race as the hub of cycling is a visionary item no American city will be able to match.”

Brown says he would make the velodrome a not-for-profit venture with fees and sponsorship all going back into programs. His dream is to build on the success of Alpenrose and expand it with year-round public access, a youth program, and more.

From talking about this idea with Adams’ Chief of Staff Tom Miller and with Amy Ruiz (who’s heading up the public process for the site redevelopment), they say they’re open to anything at this point. “May the best idea win,” said Miller. And Ruiz added that, “Mayor Adams is interested in hearing every idea for the building’s financially sustainable future use.”

As for the Blazers, I haven’t heard from their planning staff, but I do know that when I met with their outreach folks a few weeks ago, they said they were very eager to partner with and support bicycling any way they could.

Stay tuned for details on the Rose Quarter redevelopment public outreach process.

– Learn more about Steve Brown and his efforts for a new Portland velodrome at PDXVelo.org or by browsing our previous coverage of this topic.

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Comments
  • Disastronaut July 7, 2009 at 11:25 am

    The image of that proposed new velodrome makes me all tingly.

    Want.

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  • Graham July 7, 2009 at 11:29 am

    So far this is the most exciting plan I’ve heard for the MC. I hope it get’s some traction.

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  • sh July 7, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    Yes yes yesssssss !!!

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  • velo_racer July 7, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    The alpenrose velodrome is maxed out for use with more and more people trying to use it for racing, training and recreation. All this use is without mass transit, central location, visibility or any significant promotion. A new velodrome in the MC will launch Portland to the next level of competitive cycling, new rider development (hopefully the next generation of talented and competitive riders) and promotion of cycling as a cultural mainstay of the Portland “scene”. I hope the Mayor’s office sees the value in this as a cultural center of our city.

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  • ScottG July 7, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I’d definitely be a regular visitor of this place if the Velodrome would happen. I pass by this area regularly, whereas Alpenrose is too out of the way for me to get to.

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  • Zaphod July 7, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    An urban velodrome that would allow training & racing in the rain of winter would be epic.

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  • Grimm July 7, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    This could be awesome, def a lot to think about. Like secure bike parking. Beer and betting could be cool. And I worry about being in an entertainment center that racing will become much more expensive. I love going to Alpenrose and only paying like $10 per week.

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  • Anon. July 7, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    I can’t imagine what the associated operating costs would be compared to the relatively easy situation we currently have at Alpenrose.

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  • Jen July 7, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Portland could definitely make this happen. Year-round track racing – yes!

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  • bahueh July 7, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    sadly..don’t think this will happen. coliseum real estate is too expensive and a new, permanent velodrome (while fun and exciting to think about) will not bring in the revenue needed to support the facility…sorry..has anyone actually bothered to count the crowds that show up to Alpenrose, even during the 6 day national race? ….not exactly standing room only…maybe 50-70 in stand attendance…and most of those are relatives of the riders..

    I know most would argue that if you build a better facility, the crowds would show…but I’ve never even witnessed a national caliber race with enough fans to even remotely fill a fraction of the coliseum…

    what can you say, track racing isn’t for everyone…

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  • WhyteCheddar July 7, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Great.
    Just what the city needs. Another (bottomless) mouth to feed.
    The economy is in serious trouble. Lets wait for these luxuries till things are a bit more flush.

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  • Dave July 7, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Tiny, compared to the costs of keeping Alpenrose glued together much longer.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 7, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    bahueh wrote:

    “…but I’ve never even witnessed a national caliber race with enough fans to even remotely fill a fraction of the coliseum…”

    This is Portland. Cycling is religion here. It would be different. Trust me.

    “what can you say, track racing isn’t for everyone…”

    Nothing is for everyone…but ideally I think a track venue in a location like this would attract every range of skill-level… think of summer camps for kids, beginner nights, etc…

    as for spectators… imagine it’s the middle of winter and you’re watching a track race with the Willamette River and downtown skyline in the background while sipping on a locally brewed IPA, eating some good food, and hanging out with friends and family. It would be packed.

    ===

    whytecheddar wrote:

    Great. Just what the city needs. Another (bottomless) mouth to feed.

    Have you heard of OBRA? It’s our statewide bike racing organization. They are top-notch and they currently run Alpenrose — one of the most successful track racing programs in the country — on a shoestring and they break even. OBRA is a very solid org. and they know how to run programs on a budget. I doubt this would end up “as a mouth to feed”.

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  • Dabby July 7, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Many points.

    One of the things Portlander’s like about the Alpenrose Velodrome is it’s accessibility.

    One can go out most any dry day and ride, as long as there is no scheduled event.

    Another draw to it is it’s low cost when racing.

    Both points which would be negated by planting a “replacement” in the MC.

    As has been pointed out above, the cost of building and maintaining suck a facility would make it inaccessible to most.

    Not to mention many other variables that would make it suck…..

    This idea of a velodrome in the MC is, OK, say it with me, A BIG MISTAKE.

    I am not afraid to say it.

    Is there even anyone left to shop this too? I am kinda tired of hearing about it.

    Buy your own piece of land and build it already Mr. Brown.

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  • Myles July 7, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    No No No. The Memorial Coliseum is an architectural gem and must be left untouched!

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  • Myles July 7, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    just joking.

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  • Jordan July 7, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    Is that an indoor soccer field in the middle…or dare I open another can of worms…a bike polo court? Imagine a whole new arena for bicycle sports of all kinds. There could even be slow races and jousting!

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  • beer July 7, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    BEEEEEEEEEEEEEER!!!!!!!

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  • Steve Brown July 7, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    The idea of putting a cycling track in the MC is a very clever idea promoted by the city as a center piece for the area. The cost of the track is minimal, it gives a reason to save the building for its intended use and puts the program closer to everyone in the city. Our group was asked if the program at Alpenrose could be placed at the location. The same low cost wooden track we would put anywhere can be placed in the existing floor plan. Free land, save a building and keep the program the way it is, you bet. Who do you think pays for the program at Alpenrose? Track fees, the dairy and volunteers. I have spent three years working on finding a new home for track riding when the “free” track at Alpenrose is no longer rideable. The is not about business. It is about giving back to a sport I enjoy and love.

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  • bahueh July 7, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Maus…love your enthusiasm…honestly…but the proposal I’ve read is for a 200M track…which isn’t national calibur size…if it was built to that size, the big races and national caliber racers would never appear here.

    now if the organizer of all this wants to do some sort of membership for riders…I would join…would be ideal for training in the winter months.

    I’m really doubting it would be packed as you’re envisioning…like i said, any given night at alpenrose has maybe 20 people watching…track racing just isn’t that popular..its actually rather boring to watch (yes, I track race and can admit it)…should I say, its not cyclocross.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 7, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    bahueh,

    national caliber or not… I think the racing would draw a great crowd. Actually, the crowds would be larger if it was amateurs and regional hot-shots.

    maybe my vision of it being packed is naive… but it would be unprecedented so none of us really know what it would be like.

    it would so much different than Alpenrose that it doesn’t even merit a comparison.

    as for track not being popular… ever been to Japan? I wonder if there could be betting allowed? that would pack ‘em in.

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  • WhyteCheddar July 7, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    Jonathon Maus said…
    “Have you heard of OBRA? It’s our statewide bike racing organization. They are top-notch and they currently run Alpenrose — one of the most successful track racing programs in the country — on a shoestring and they break even. OBRA is a very solid org. and they know how to run programs on a budget. I doubt this would end up “as a mouth to feed”.”

    It would take public money to build would it not? Then, being a public building it would also need maintained. Any idea how much it might cost to maintain a building like this annually?
    Solid as OBRA may be, this is well beyone their grasp.
    Since Portland has such a thriving biking community, start collecting money and buy and build it with 100% private funds. Then I will not just be impressed, but an occasional patron as well.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) July 7, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    WhyteCheddar,

    I hear you.

    At this point, I think it’s too early to get hung up on money and budgets.

    i think it’s not unreasonable to think a lot of the money could be raised through a combination of private donations, membership dues, corporate sponsorships, etc…

    but like I said… at this point it’s just an idea on the table. any redevelopment will cost money… it’s a matter of deciding what is best for the city.

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  • velo_racer July 7, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Some poeple do not understand the culture of the city or the growing regional and national popularity of recreational and competitive cycling, especially on the velodrome.

    Portland’s diverse community of cyclists and fans will embrace a new, public, community based velodrome in the MC. With 10′s of thousands of riders in OBRA, PUMP, BikePortland.org and other associations listed on the right side of this web page, the incredible number of cycling fans in our ares is larger than any other in North America.

    Portland in general will embrace a community based and family friendly approach to a velodrome riding program at the MC

    Riders from around the nation will embrace a velodrome at the MC that is open, friendly, usable and accessable.

    Check out the links below to see other successful velodromes (just look at the number of people in the stands!!!)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cgoy5hBEqk

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWJoRUBwZ4g

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ1j8sXtMqI

    mg

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  • Seth Alford July 7, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Another thing to consider when thinking about costs: how much has it cost for the MC to sit more or less idle all this time, versus redeveloping it for use as a velodrome?

    Yes, theoretically, tearing it down and leaving a vacant lot would end the cost of maintaining an under-used facility. But veterans groups and architects will object to having the MC torn down. See http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2009/04/portlands_rush_to_replace_memo.html

    I don’t know the exact numbers, but I suspect that using it for something would be more cost effective than letting it be unused, or under-used.

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  • Dabby July 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Ok, so while it would never happen, but I have to say it.

    The last thing bike polo wants or needs is to:
    A. be connected to the city in any manner.
    B. be directly connected to jousting
    C. Play in the MC.
    D. draw that much attention to itself.

    Some new/young players want exactly that, and they are misguided. Hence the recent O’ article.

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  • dan July 7, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Surely I’m not the only person who looks at this and says “flat track roller derby!” am I? Could the same track be used for both purposes?

    Roller derby routinely packs the Convention Center – bet they could draw huge crowds to the MC. I would definitely pay for a double bill – track racing in the afternoon, roller derby in the evening.

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  • Steve Brown July 7, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    WhyteCheddar, The concept is not being considered in a vacuum without the input from OBRA. With a reasonable facility we can create new programs and sponsorship not available at Alpenrose. Think of 500 thirsty beer drinkers at a Friday night race. It all adds up.

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  • Daniel Ronan July 7, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    This would be an awesome way to give Portland a distinct bicycle feel, more than it already has! It would be awesome to say “I’m going to the Portland Velodrome!” I really hope this happens!

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  • Jim Lee July 7, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Steve B: I hereby permit you to apply my $50 velodrome pledge to this project!

    Might it be possible to fit an Olympic standard 250 meter track into an upper lever of MC? Diagonally?

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  • David G July 7, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    bahueh
    I believe you are mistaken on the track size issues. To hold an UCI world cup, world championships, or a USA national championships you would need a 250m track. To hold a world class event, you would need a good promoter and riders. If someone so desired, we could have a world class event on a grass track. Some of the best/biggest events are held on 200m tracks (6 days, revolution series, Christmas Carnivals, just to name a few). Besides the real benefit to the track in the MC would be the usage…. like a high school league maybe. 250 would be cool but not a deal breaker in my book. DG

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  • WhyteCheddar July 7, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Apparently folks have either forgotten the time honored tradition of not borrowing to buy something. Or leaning on the largess of the general public to provide for your entertainment.
    I am not against civic facilities for recreational purposes, but I am against a government in debt up to its neck and mismanagement, and taxing its citizens into the ground taking on a project like this.
    I know its preliminary, but the timing could not be worse.

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  • Zaphod July 7, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    If the food and drink were executed by an entity that knows what they are doing (ahem McMenamins or similar) then you would have a busy venue BEFORE the bikes showed up. Then you add the excitement of racing and we’re on fire.

    Personally, I’ve been to Alpenrose half a dozen times in ~5 years purely because it’s difficult to get out there. It’s 3-4 hours to roll out there, ride/train/race whatever and roll home. If I have a four hour chunk of time, I’m doing a big road ride or singletrack.

    Put something in NE Portland and have it INDOORS!?! And, are you kidding me… I’ll be there all the time. I’m not alone in this. It’ll be very popular. No question. The naysayers have it wrong.

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  • coaster July 7, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    add in an indoor mountain biking park (like http://www.raysmtb.com)….

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  • wsbob July 7, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    With a velodrome in the MC configured as Steve Brown and his architect propose, how much seating capacity will there be? What other types of events would be possible on the main floor of the MC if this velodrome design was used? How much seating would be available for events on the main floor?

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  • Vance Longwell July 7, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Simple. Build the track as a modular unit that can be disassembled easily. This would be beyond awesome. I miss the ‘Hawks, but this would be so worth it. A good national caliber century, with our crit, oh ya, we’d draw athletes from all over.

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  • Kenneth July 7, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Simply AWSOME!

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  • Chris July 7, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    OK, so let me get this straight…
    Portland can’t hold onto sports like WNBA, or indoor lacrosse, and barely have enough people go to see the AAA Beavers, and you want to spend tens of millions of taxpayers dollars for indoor bike racing? 99.999% of Portlanders, much less all Americans, don’t even know this exists! What a waste!

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  • jd July 8, 2009 at 8:57 am

    WhyteCheddar and Chris,

    If you two had bothered to read the previous articles, the requested funds were from lottery funds earmarked for recreation. The amount requested was $3.5 million, which is a fraction of “tens of millions”.

    I would invite all the naysayers to come out to the dairy next weekend for the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge (http://www.alpenrosechallenge.com/) and observe the size of the crowds first hand. Not to mention, there will be some killer racing going on.

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  • mark July 8, 2009 at 10:01 am

    that’s an awesome idea! I wonder what it would be like racing around that track, and looking down through that hole to the floor below. this would be great though. would bring a lot more people to the track too, since Alpenrose is so far away.

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  • Dave July 8, 2009 at 10:03 am

    How many Portlanders know we have an extremely nice golf course down in Eastmoreland? How much did it cost? What percentage of Portlanders have ever set foot on it? Will the Masters ever play there?! OH GOD RIP IT UP!

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  • Adam July 8, 2009 at 10:18 am

    I’ve never been to a track race and don’t have a ton of ambition to do so. However, I would rather go to a track race then an MLS game!

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  • Steve Brown July 8, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Seating for an event can be in the 2500-3000 range without too much effort. The cost for the track is $250,000, an amount that the program can afford and pay off in less than 10 years. The racing program runs on volunteers, the riders are not a payroll item. We do not have to make a profit. We have found a very low cost way to save the MC, bring traffic to the area and create a public use venue. Understand that not everyone has to think this is a great idea, but at least give us some credit for trying to think this through.

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  • Andrew July 8, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I love the idea. Thanks for all your work Steve.

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  • ignatz July 8, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Oh please, oh please, oh please.
    I will chip in to build it, to race on it and to pay the maintenance people when I puke my guts out. An indoor track needs to happen here. What are all those fixie riders going to do when they realize that fixed gear bikes are a drag to ride around town? They’ll need a place to go. Build it for them.

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  • Ryan July 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Seriously. This needs to happen.
    Year round.
    Hellz yeah.

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  • Blah Blah Blah July 8, 2009 at 6:08 pm

    I have an awesome idea…Portland could tax the income of the cyclists attending races to pay for this.

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  • amanda July 8, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    +1 to Roller Derby in the Velodrome — does that work?

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  • wsbob July 8, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    Steve Brown #43 says the velodrome depicted in the Jeff Mitchem/Ankrom Moisan Architects illustration above will allow a 3000 seating capacity. Correct? The MC arena in its current configuration has somewhere around a 12,000 seating capacity. With the addition of an upper level velodrome, the lower level seating capacity, using simple math, would be reduced to 9000.

    Very little details are offered about what such a lower might be like or what activities might be proposed for it, so that seating capacity is assuming a lot.

    With a lower ceiling on the lower level, and the windows blocked out, there goes the signature, airy, natural lit interior for events on the lower level.

    If the illustration above is reasonably accurate, and what people have mentioned about 200m and 250m velodrome tracks is true, the track seems to be too big for the MC, unfortunately. I hope though, that these guys continue rounding out other details of their proposal, to complete the picture. That will help to build interest in a centrally located velodrome.

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  • Steve Brown July 9, 2009 at 8:24 am

    The track in the rendering has been raised to put the rail at street level. All renderings were done to print, meaning a 200M track fits as depicted. The city has already supplied us with the drawings of the building. With a reasonable amount of portable seating a track with these dimensions can host a crowd of 3000. The track actually rests on the second level of seating, not the floor. Using the floor only allows for a 167M track. Plans for the lower level are open. What is shown is a depiction of generic use of the open space.

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  • revphil July 9, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    i remember going to the MC as a kid. even then all i ever wanted to do was to ride a loop around the concourse.

    im all for increased functionality. If possible make it so that we can have a variety of events. Roller Derby is kicks serous ass.

    dabby, the last thing polo needs is for you to be its spokesperson.

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  • Dabby July 9, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Polo neither has, nor needs a spokesperson, though others (not me) are trying hard to fill the position.

    My point early in these coments is that bike polo does not need to be involved in any venture, even such as this, that is not wholly controlled by those who play the game.

    I am sure Phil, that you realize the changes, such as paying to play, paying for the league, insurance, too many players, pads, helmets, restrictions, and un-needed regulations that would detract entirely from the style and type of experience we have in the park now.
    (and those are only some of the problems)

    We would just end up pissed off and playing back where we should be..

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  • toddistic July 10, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I bet most of the nay sayers have never even ridden on a velodrome or watched a race outside of youtube. There are lots of sport specific venues that are built by cities for a subset of the population, golf courses, baseball fields, running tracks, hell even boat launch ramps for fishermen, the list goes on. An indoor velodrome sounds so very Portland!

    With the increase in track racing the past couple of years – I don’t think this is asking too much. This would also continue to stimulate the local bike ecnomy with more people building track bikes for racing.

    Ask the volunteers at Alpenrose such as Steve Garcia about attendance at the Wednesday night beginner track lessons in the past couple of years, there has been a noticable and significant increase in ridership. High schools could develop their own teams and race against each other and develop future professional racers.

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  • Phr3dly July 13, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I like the idea of an indoor track. But just as I don’t particularly appreciate my taxes paying for others’ pet projects that I’ll never use, I suspect most would not appreciate their tax dollars paying for something that a vanishingly small number of cyclists will ever use.

    If the cycling community were to get behind this and pay for it without, I think that would be awesome. Otherwise it strikes me as pork.

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  • Curm July 14, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Is there enough market to support it? Is there so little it will collapse under the weight of its costs? We can argue until the cows come home, but there truth is … no one knows. We should all understand that. No one knows. A more productive discussion would center on how we move forward: put numbers to the market … revenue from participants and ticket sales, merchandise, event food+drink, level of subsidy (other in the form of sponsorships or public support), less costs for startup/operations/capital maintenance and improvement. Don’t guess based on our individual biases (pro and con). Quantify it. Then decide.

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  • Garcia October 1, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    Long live the Alpenrose Velodrome!

    BTY, Mike Murray says…

    “After the Cross Crusade visit the Alpenrose Velodrome it will be time to
    get the track ready for the winter. The sponsor signs need to come down and
    get put away for the winter. Electronics and other weather sensitive stuff
    needs to be put away where it will stay dry.

    This will be a quick job if I can get a few people to help us. I am
    planning on going to the Velodrome at 4:00 PM on Monday 10/5. It will
    probably take 2 – 3 hours depending on how many people show up to help.
    Hope to see you there.”

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