fast track: can indoor bike racing rescue slavic village?

Marie Kittredge recalls firsthand when the national foreclosure crisis landed in her beloved neighborhood of Slavic Village.

"In a short period there were about a dozen empty houses on East 75th Street [off of Broadway]," says Kittredge, Executive Director of Slavic Village Development (SVD), a nonprofit community organization that serves the neighborhood.

For years, shady investors had inflated sales prices by using freshly rehabbed homes as comparables. Ironically, many of these rehabs were fixed up and sold by SVD.

"We'd sell a rehabbed home for $80,000 and they'd buy grandma's house next door for $30,000, slap a coat of paint on it, and sell it for the same price," Kittredge says. "A year later, the house would be in foreclosure."

That was back in 2007. These days, Slavic Village is digging itself out of the crater left behind by the housing market's crash. In fact, the neighborhood is enjoying green shoots of renewal -- evidenced in new urban farms, city parks, football fields and recreation trails. So much so, in fact, that Slavic Village has begun to rebrand itself as a hub for urban recreation.

The most ambitious project is a proposed $7.5 million indoor cycling track, which would be the only indoor velodrome east of the Rockies. Plans call for the recreational facility to be built at Broadway and McBride, on the former site of St. Michael's Hospital. That facility closed in 2003, and when it was subsequently torn down by the City of Cleveland, yet another vacant lot took its place.

Although a groundbreaking is anything but guaranteed, the idea is not as far-fetched as it might sound. Fast Track Cycling, a nonprofit organization of cycling enthusiasts, is leading a capital campaign that has already raised $200,000. Brett Davis, chairperson of Fast Track, says the pioneering facility would serve a critical need in the Midwest.

"There's strong demand because there are so few indoor recreation options during winter," he says. "This could be a draw for the entire region."

The center could also help transform Cleveland into a greener, healthier city while making it a destination for cycling enthusiasts, adds Davis. The facility would nicely complement other successful recreational attractions such as Ray's Indoor Mountain Bike Park and Rivergate Park, a Flats park dedicated to rowing.

The center would consist of two air-supported domes linked by a small building that contains the locker rooms and a café. The domes would house an artificial turf field, basketball and volleyball courts, and the velodrome, a steeply banked wooden cycling track. Approximately 30 to 40 cyclists could ride on the track at any one time, says Davis, and they needn't be experienced racers.

"I can teach a kid to ride in less than 30 minutes," says Davis. "You just have to believe in the physics."

Physics, indeed. A velodrome's long, banked "straights" and steeply pitched turns are designed to counteract the centrifugal forces that would otherwise tilt a bike and its rider outwards. Racers can instead focus on speed and tactics rather than staying upright. Top racers can reach speeds of up to 52 miles per hour and higher.

Davis says velodrome races would draw thousands of spectators. "We'll charge five or 10 dollars a head for the Friday night races. This happens in European cities all the time. It's a social thing – you go to watch the race and hear bands play."

It wouldn't be the first time thousands of Clevelanders gathered to watch indoor bike racing. Like many other cities, Cleveland once boasted dozens of indoor tracks, providing winter-weary sports fans a post-football thrill. It may be tough to imagine, but the jazz-age sport attracted crowds by the thousands, and top cyclists -- or "scorchers" -- earned two to three times more than other athletes.

Why couldn't it happen again?

While the fundraising is a challenge, Davis says the project is gaining momentum.

"We're targeting people with a passion for cycling and the city," he says. Fast Track hopes to raise $2 million from individuals, with the remaining funds coming from foundations, state and local grants, and New Market Tax Credits.

Davis estimates that when completed the center would create 75 construction jobs, 25-30 permanent jobs, and attract 500,000 visitors per year. Sales of memberships, admission fees and equipment rentals will sustain the center once it is built, finds a market study conducted by an independent source.

Fast Track selected the Slavic Village site, which it has an option to purchase from the City of Cleveland, because of its proximity to highways.

Slavic Village Development's Marie Kittredge says the project would animate the vacant land where St. Michael's Hospital once stood while adding to the community's growing roster of recreation attractions.

"We've made recreation a central part of our neighborhood redevelopment efforts," says Kittredge. "We're building a constituency here." It takes years of planning, she adds, but recreation projects can help redevelop entire neighborhoods.

On a recent tour, Kittredge points to Morgana Run, a paved multi-use trail created in 2006 from a long-abandoned railroad line. Despite a thick layer of freshly fallen snow, the trail is festooned with tire tracks and footprints.

"It's well-used even in winter," she says. "Now we're known as a cycling community."

Photography by Bob Perkoski, Renderings by Vocon
- Photo 1: Bret Davis, Chairperson of Fast Track
- Photo 4: - Future site of the Velodrome at Broadway and McBride in Slavic Village
- Photo 5: Morganna Run multi-use trail
- Photo 6: Newly opened football field and stadium at Central Catholic Academy in Slavic Village
- Rendering 1: Aerial perspective of the future Velodrome
- Rendering 2: Interior 
of the future Velodrome

Lee Chilcote
Lee Chilcote

About the Author: Lee Chilcote

Lee Chilcote is founder and editor of The Land. He is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.