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Once Again, the South Chicago Velodrome Is in Danger of Closing

Photo: South Chicago Velodrome Association
Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

For the second time, we’re in danger of losing the South Chicago Velodrome, the city’s only bike racing track, which also hosts youth education programs. Bike mechanic Marcus Moore, who spearheaded the campaign to save the track last year after its original owner gave up on running it, says he’s now getting burned out himself after spending countless unpaid hours on the revival effort.

“I spent more time there last year than I was hoping and it really took over my life,” say Moore, an ex-messenger who owns the store Yojimbo’s Garage, located in the former Cabrini Green area. “It’s hurt my financial position – I had to turn away a lot of repair work and the opportunity cost was big.”

Moore says he’s planning on reducing his involvement with the project to a few hours a week. Meanwhile the monthly insurance bill for the velodrome is overdue, as are payments to the company that manufactured the portable wooden facility. If others don’t step forward to help out, the insurance policy will be canceled, and the track, located at 8615 South Burley on U.S. Steel’s former South Works plant site, will be repossessed.

The portable, outdoor track, built in 2011, was supposed to be the first step in a grand plan for the South Chicago Velo Campus, brainstormed by luxury pet accessory mogul Emanuele Bianchi. This $45 million campus would have included a larger indoor velodrome and other sports facilities, serving as the centerpiece of the planned Lakeside development on the former South Works site.

After hosting races for adults, plus education programs for youth from the surrounding low-to-middle-income communities for a few years, Emanuele and his partners gave up on the project in September 2014, citing a lack of support from the Chicago bike community. It looked like the manufacturer, Detroit-area-based V-Worldwide would dismantle the track and take it away.

Marcus Moore, left, providing a payment to V-Worldwide owner Dale Hughes. Photo: South Chicago Velodrome Association

But Marcus Moore and other cycling enthusiasts stepped in the stop that from happening. Through a crowdfunding campaign, they were able to raise about $30,000 by April 2015 and persuade V-Worldwide to let them hold onto the track while they continued to fundraise. The real estate company McCaffery Interests, which was managing the South Works site for the steel company and collaborating with them on the Lakeside plan, agreed to let the new track boosters use the land rent-free.

Last year Moore and other volunteers were able to refurbish the lower half of the steeply banked track, which needed maintenance after a period of disuse. That summer they hosted some public meet-and-greets and social rides on the velodrome and also held mechanics classes for local youth in a trailed next to the track.

But Moore says the revival effort now has a flat tire. Although the volunteers formed a nonprofit organization to run the facility, some of the board members lost interest after too many meetings and track repair days with a low turnout from the public.

Although the group has paid V-Worldwide $39,000 out of the remaining $110,000 required to purchase the velodrome, they’re now a few months behind in payments, Moore says. A more immediate problem is insurance. U.S. Steele requires a whopping $15 million in aggregate coverage, while a typical track only needs $2-3 million in coverage, according to Moore. As a result the nonprofit has had to pay $2,500 a month in premiums.

They now have only about $500 in their bank account, and they’re behind in their insurance payments. If they don’t come up with the remaining $2,000 by April 8, their policy will be canceled, and the track will have to be removed from the site within a month.

Although the volunteers’ contact at McCaffery asked U.S. Steel to lower the insurance requirement, the steel company wouldn’t agree. Last month, the two companies parted ways, and the Lakeside development plan was shelved, although Moore says the split doesn’t significantly affect the velodrome.

A year ago, one of the track volunteers met informally with a high-level Chicago Park District staffer to discuss the possibility of moving the velodrome to a park district site. The staffer said her agency didn’t want to take over the costs and labor requirements of running the track, but there might be a possibility of providing land. However, there was no obvious location for the large facility.

In the short term, Moore is hoping that donors will chip in $2,000 within two weeks so that the nonprofit can pay the pending insurance bill, and they won’t have to send the velodrome back to Michigan. But they’ll still have to keep coming up with the $2,500 monthly insurance bill, and start paying off V-Worldwide again. The GoFundMe page for the track revival effort is still up, although donations have recently slowed to a trickle.

While Moore feels the need to scale back his involvement, he’s still optimistic that the South Chicago Velodrome can be saved for the long term. “My dream scenario would be to have racers, people from the immediate area, people who like working with kids, and business owners serving as board members,” he says. “We’ve done most of the hard work already, so I don’t think we should be intimidated by this. It’s just a matter of finding people who are interested in being more hands-on.”

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago's own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

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