“Any public land, especially in the middle of the Town Center, needs to be a community center for all residents and not a private bike club,” Wildwood resident Nile Stephens said on Sept. 25.
Stephens, of Ivy Hill Court, was speaking to the City Council, who had planned to vote that night on a letter of intent to accept a land donation that eventually could have resulted in the development of a 250-meter Olympic cycling velodrome facility in the city. That vote did not take place.
A velodrome is a raised, wooden track that is used primarily in competition events.
Originally, Wildwood GBII, LLC [Greenberg Development Co.] and Dierbergs Wildwood II, LLC [Dierbergs Investment Corp.] planned to donate 4.5 acres that could be used for a proposed velodrome or another public purpose. However, Brent Beumer, vice president of real estate for Dierbergs Markets, said on Sept. 25 that the two companies were “rescinding the offer to donate ground.”
“We can’t allow Dierbergs to have our name dragged through the mud,” he said, adding the two firms were approached by the city for the donation. “If there comes a time when the city figures out what it could do with that ground, we would again consider it. At this point, we don’t want to move forward.”
City Administrator Ryan Thomas had previously told the council that, over the course of the past year, he had been in discussions with the two companies regarding a tract at 16795 Manchester Road. That tract was conceptually targeted for the velodrome. If the land had been accepted for donation, the city would have been able to enter into a separate lease agreement between the city and the Metro St. Louis Velodrome Association, a nonprofit that would have developed the cycling venue.
While the project remained in a conceptual state, subject to rezoning approval and acceptable terms of a management agreement with the Metro St. Louis Velodrome Association, residents became vocal. On Sept. 25, dozens of residents packed into the city’s council chambers, with many speaking out in opposition to the possible velodrome.
Stephens was among those who spoke during the meeting’s public comment period. He said he feared residents “could end up on the hook” to replace or resurface the velodrome track later on. And he opposed “accepting free land with strings attached.”
Rob Meinert, of Hunters Crossing Court, said many residents feared the venue would lead to increased traffic, noise and light pollution.
Eva Brinner, of Allenton Road, said, “I’ve found no proof velodromes are viable – I’m afraid we residents will be stuck forever paying any deficit on a velodrome, all for the pleasure of a small select group.” She said she also feared the many users of a velodrome could add to traffic snarls, a strain on city infrastructure, crime and the need for more police funding.
Jeanie Hood, of Whitsetts Fork Road and owner of Wildwood-based Three French Hens, said a velodrome was “not a good use for the community.”
“People I speak with are supportive of something like a community swimming pool,” Hood said.
Hood also expressed concerns about the city’s need for economic development and offered suggestions to that end, which did not include a velodrome.
But Julie Carter, of St. Charles and president of the Metro St. Louis Velodrome Association, spoke in support of the economic impact the velodrome could have on Wildwood. She estimated that impact at $800,000 to $4 million for a weekend event. She added that the facility also could be used for public events such as after-school, fitness and summer activities. And she addressed the residents’ concerns regarding traffic congestion, noise and infrastructure strain.
“There won’t be as big an impact as residents anticipate,” Carter said.
Cory Redmand, of Hollister Crossing Drive and a member of the association, added that the association would own and maintain the multi-use facility, “which will have more opportunities than just track racing.”
Later, Councilmember Joe Garritano [Ward 8] said it was “unfortunate things turned out the way they did.”
“We had the potential to put something here for the greater good of the city,” Garritano said.
He said he had conducted an email survey on the issue in September. He reached out to 502 residents and business owners in his ward and said 149 people had responded. He noted that 72.9 percent of respondents disagreed with a proposed land donation for the primary purpose of constructing an outdoor velodrome and that 87.1 percent of respondents said they or household members wouldn’t use such a facility.
Looking toward the future, Garritano said, “But I want to keep the lines of communication open for a clean donation of land, with no strings attached, so that the city can determine the best use for any land, with residents’ input.”