A proposed project in Gilbert would both expand the operation of the national BMX organization and provide expanded recreational service to residents with minimal expense to the town.
The project is a $19 million facility to house major operations for USA BMX — a national organization that organizes BMX bike races across the U.S.
Plans for the site include an expanded home office for the organization — USA BMX Chief Operating Officer John David said it has outgrown its current office that’s already based in Gilbert — a hall of fame and a museum that will feature items like Elliot’s bike from the movie “E.T.”
Beyond the business side of the operation are a sizable BMX course with an arena seating 4,000 people that’s capable of hosting national events, and a bike park for public use. The proposed location is near Greenfield and Germann roads near SanTan Village Mall, although Gilbert Economic Development Director Dan Henderson said that could change.
If completed, the facility would serve as a training center for Olympic athletes — David said a majority of the top BMX athletes live in the United States — and would host four major events per year.
The Town Council still has to approve the proposal, which could come during an April 17th meeting, and David anticipated the complex would open either late 2015 or early 2016.
David said USA BMX put out a request for proposal for potential locations across the country 16 months ago and decided to remain in Gilbert after listening to the town’s pitch and realizing its goals aligned with the organization’s.
“We could offer as much for us as for them,” David said.
As part of the agreement with USA BMX, the town would pitch in up to $3 million, which can come from bonds or money from reserve or parks funds. The town would also front the costs to pay for facilities such as the $12 million bike track and the cost for the corporate office.
But Henderson said the town will receive the money back via lease payments over a 30-year period.
“We have ensured this track pays itself back over time,” he said.
One of the ways Gilbert has ensured it will recoup the initial expenses is a requirement BMX fill a certain number of hotel rooms every year of the lease: 3,500 rooms per year in years one through 10, 4,000 rooms in years 11 through 20 and 4,500 rooms between years 21 and 30. Missing those goals means USA BMX has to cover the total of the sales and bed taxes — a total of 4.5 percent per room — from the missing room rentals.
“We had those expectations anyway,” David said.
One aspect the town won’t necessarily see a direct return on investment is the bike park, which is loosely estimated to cost $1.5 million. Henderson said that figure is based on the cost of similar projects, and said he can’t create a more solid projection until the council approves it. The exchange would be USA BMX will run the park for Gilbert and will offer Gilbert residents free access to it, although Henderson said there would be a cost to race on the bike track. Gilbert residents would receive a 25-percent discount on that service.
The low-cost access to a facility of a high enough quality for Olympic athletes to train is one of the facility’s perks, with Henderson saying it aligns well with two of the town’s goals.
“This project does a good job of straddling economic development and park development,” he said.
The former, he said, stems from a wish list from residents that includes a BMX facility, while the latter is rooted in the economic benefits that could come from the course. As alluded to earlier, Henderson said Gilbert anticipates an uptick in tourism dollars related to hotels and dining from people arriving for events during a two-to-three-day stretch.
The tourism dollars would increase as the sport’s popularity continues to increase on both national and international levels, as David said BMX’s popularity has increased since it debuted as an Olympic sport in 2008. The proposed opening would be a few months ahead of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“The timing couldn’t be better,” David said.
Building the facility in Gilbert is expected to lure some of those top riders to Gilbert as well, with 2012 Olympic silver medalist Ryan Willoughby, who hails from Australia, saying he would move to town if the facility is built.
Keeping the headquarters in Gilbert also retains the approximately 30 USA BMX positions and could add between five to 10 more jobs with salaries around $40,000 a year, according to Henderson.
A forum held about the proposal on March 11 elicited a few complaints, particularly with the location by the Loop 202 that could create additional traffic problems for the area.
“Those are legitimate concerns and concerns we will work to solve,” Henderson said.
He also cited complaints about potential noise violations, which he said are more subjective in nature.
A second public meeting is planned in early April for residents to discuss concerns and give general feedback about the project prior to the Gilbert Town Council’s vote.
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