by Karen Hanson, VACA EditorShow me the money. Ok, I didn’t ask the question quite like that, I asked, “What are your sources for financing?” when I sat down to lunch with Steve Burton the other day. Burton is a wiry little easy going guy that you would never expect to swim with the sharks. Looks are often deceiving. Burton received his Ph.D. in Psychology, served on the medical staff at a downtown Chicago Medical University, made millions by developing one of the first digital healthcare diagnostic systems for sleep studies, and when the Skate Nation ice skating rinks went bankrupt, he and a few local partners bought them and restored them to a healthy, profitable business. He also started Virginia Speedskating and the Richmond-based short track speed skating team is the reigning two-time National Champion. He regularly houses Olympic and National caliber athletes in his home and has some very innovative funding programs that include Bingo to raise funds to support them. This is a man who is passionate about sports and what they can do for youth and families.
Still, it was a surprise when Burton, SportsQuest’s CEO, started rattling off exactly where the financing for this very ambitious project is coming from. For me, it was a jaw dropping moment. Usually when I hear people talk about projects like a velodrome it’s a pie-in-the-sky idea. Then, at the end of the spiel is a wishy-washy statement of grants to be sought for government funding.
There are no government funds for velodromes. In the recent past, there may have been funds for golf courses, but not for cycling related infrastructure.
A velodrome in and of itself is probably not a sound investment anyway. When you look at the one at Trexlertown and the fact that it is and has been in the red for years, there is not much incentive for people to go in that direction. Steve was very up front that the 15-25 people who showed up at the weekly track racing at Southside Speedway this summer would not be adequate to fund a velodrome.
Burton, however, is not building just a velodrome. He is building a “Sports Mecca.” Mecca has a name - SportsQuest. SportsQuest isn’t just a velodrome, it’s a campus that will incorporate 27 sports and its center is laid out something like the National Mall.
SportsQuest is a great platform for cycling development. We all know that most people never start serious cycling until they are adults – it’s hard to convince mom and dad that it’s safe out there on the road with the dump trucks. However, SportsQuest cycling is safely harbored within its 250 acre campus and there’s all kinds of cycling. First, there is a 250 meter, concrete velodrome. And there is a 5k cyclocross/cross country course that passes in front of a 2,500 seat amphitheater. And a 1k criterium course with lights that has the ability to be optionally routed onto the velodrome. Now that will make for some interesting rides.
The venue is not just for cycling. Steve sees SportsQuest as a “sports and family entertainment” destination. In addition to cycling the campus includes a family entertainment center with bowling, laser tag, arcades, etc. There will be a state of the art fitness center, Olympic caliber 50-meter pool with a 25-meter warm up pool and grandstand that seats 1,200. There is also a multi-sport arena that seats 2,500 and over 25 full-size athletic fields for football, soccer, lacrosse – you get the idea. It is the synthesis of all of the parts of the facility that make the individual parts possible.
The cool part is that your membership allows you access to all of the campus facilities during the public times. Join for the cycling races and bring your family for ice skating or bowling on the weekend for free.
Burton has a novel approach to the facility. He is going to sell sliding scale individual and family memberships like a club. Affordable “fan memberships”- someone who wants to come watch top level amateur competitions like Olympic Trials and National Championships or minor league sports – SportsQuest has already bought an indoor football team and are planning five other pro sports teams on the campus.
Or perhaps you’d rather have a “player membership” for recreational league play, youth development teams, and on up to a high performance program for which the athlete will have to qualify. The sliding scale is estimated to range from $20-$200 per month. The cool part is that your membership allows you access to all of the campus facilities during the public times. Join for the cycling races and bring your family for ice skating or bowling on the weekend for free.
All of this will require top name coaches and staff to bring people in which will bring employment opportunities for star athletes in retirement. “Connecting our Olympic athletes to the youth development programs is part of the appeal for our campus experience,” Burton says. The requests for employment and athletic training are already pouring into his email box every day.
Adding to the “everything in one place” philosophy, the plans include the essentials: sports medicine center, cafeterias, pro shops and other retail, restaurants, athlete housing, hotel, office space, etc. The entire campus will also have wi-fi access.
Burton says that the cycling components are among the easiest to construct and that the cycling venues should be completed early. Construction on the other more complex buildings and venues may prevent early access, however. Plans are to continue track racing in the spring at the Southside Speedway until the velodrome is safely accessible.
Ground breaking starts December 15, 2009 – where do I sign up?
For a look at the plans and a complete list of the various venues learn more at: www.sportsquest.biz.
(photo of Steve Burton at VA Track Championships courtesy of Kevin Dillard)
GamJams VACA Editor Karen Hanson is a litigation specialist for a large excess and surplus lines insurance company and is constantly amazed by the inventive ways that people create to hurt themselves and others. She is the team director of Rostello p/b Fiorucci and lives in the wilds of Goochland County, VA where you can ride for 100’s of miles in any direction.