Biking complex envisioned for rail yard in Northeast

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September 27, 2013
By: Ben Johnson
The potential future site of an indoor velodrome, with the historic Roundhouse in the background
Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson
New complex with velodrome, BMX biking course envisioned for Shoreham Yards site

A nonprofit cycling organization has launched a plan to build an estimated $20–$25 million bike-centric development on the eastern edge of Shoreham Yards in Northeast.

The MN Cycling Center (MNCC) envisions an 80,000-square-foot complex centered on an indoor velodrome, which is a banked track designed for fixed-gear bicycle racing.

Initial plans call for a multi-purpose sports field on the infield of the velodrome, along with an events center, an outdoor BMX biking course, street-level retail along Central Avenue and an outdoor plaza incorporating the historic Shoreham Yards Roundhouse.

City Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward) is hosting a community meeting Oct. 8, 5:30–7:30 p.m., at Columbia Manor, 3300 Central Ave. NE, to discuss MNCC’s proposal.

MNCC will present their plan for the 18-acre, teardrop-shaped plot that runs parallel to Central Avenue from 28th Avenue NE up to St. Anthony Parkway.

“Our vision is to have this thing up and running in two to three years,” said Jason Lardy, president of the MNCC. “We’re estimating it will be about a 12 to 18 month construction cycle, and so we’re hoping to break ground within 18 months.”

Lardy and the rest of the four-person MNCC board will face a number of challenges before their dream development becomes reality.

Shoreham Yards has a long, complicated history scattered with aborted development proposals and contentious legal battles involving Canadian Pacific Railway’s obligation to clean up significant onsite pollution and the historic status of the Roundhouse.

The Roundhouse is a large, semi-circular building constructed in 1887 as storage space for steam locomotives. The city of Minneapolis granted it historic designation in 2000 after Canadian Pacific (CP) attempted to tear it down. The red brick structure has deteriorated significantly over the years, so Lardy said he envisions preserving parts of it in a plaza area similar to the Mill Ruins Park, instead of rehabilitating the building.

The team behind the MN Cycling Center

Lardy grew up in North Dakota, graduated from Macalaster College, then moved to New York to attend grad school at New York University. The avid biker currently lives in south Minneapolis and runs his own marketing company, called Nomad Marketing. He also serves as the marketing director for the outdoor velodrome at Blaine’s National Sports Center and the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival.

Lardy said the 23-year-old outdoor velodrome at the National Sports Center in Blaine is “nearing the end of its usefulness,” and that he’s wanted to build the cycling complex since 2010, when the MNCC was founded.

The other board members are Jeff Sweitzer, a Minnesota-based architect and designer of the project, Mark Dillon, president of Meyers Printing, and one more person who is chose to remain anonymous due to his association with the National Sports Center velodrome.

The only other indoor velodrome in the U.S. is part of a massive sports complex and Olympic training center outside of Los Angeles, although efforts are underway to build one in Chicago, New York City and Pennsylvania. An indoor velodrome was built in 2009 in Boulder, Colo., but it closed in 2012.

How will they pay?

Reich pitched Shoreham Yards to the MNCC in the spring after hearing they were looking at potential build sites around the metro. Later, when the board officially decided to pursue Shoreham, Reich arranged for CP officials to give them a tour.

“They have a baseline concept right now, but the financial realities, working with Canadian Pacific and working with the community will all define what the project becomes,” said Reich.

So far only informal discussions have occurred between CP and the MNCC, and David Drach, director of US real estate at CP declined to publicly comment because no official offer has been made on the 18-acre parcel of the 320-acre rail yard.

“CP is not currently soliciting development proposals at Shoreham Yards. At this time our focus is on continuing remediation work at the site, although we remain open to future development at the site,” said Ed Greenberg, a spokesperson with CP.

Lardy admits that “the complete financing package is not put together yet,” but he anticipates it will contain a combination of private investment, sponsorships, grants and state and city contributions.

This fall the MNCC will kick off its founding members drive, which will solicit donations at the $1,000 and $5,000 level for memberships and special privileges at the velodrome and events center.

Pollution cleanup status

Significant progress has been made since major pollution remediation began at Shoreham in 2006. At the proposed velodrome site on the eastern side of Shoreham Yards, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is overseeing a joint Voluntary Investigation and Cleanup program run by CP and Ashland, Inc., which produces Valvoline motor oil along with a number of other chemical products.

The Department of Agriculture is overseeing a separate cleanup effort at a Superfund site on the western half of Shoreham.

Five different methods have been used to extract the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) — a variety of chemical solvents, cleaners and diesel fuel — that spilled and seeped into the soil over the years.

The most visible of the five methods are the soil vapor extraction (SVE) wells. The wells operate like a vacuum system, sucking the VOC vapors out of the soil and sending them through a carbon filter before exhausting what’s left into the air.

Recently the amount of VOCs the wells have been pulling out has dramatically decreased, and CP plans to do testing over the winter and spring to determine how much pollution remains.

“The whole active remediation is probably going to end in the next couple of years; SVE system probably in the next year,” said Andrew Nichols, a MPCA site remediation and redevelopment project manager.

Nichols said the pollution will probably never be fully eradicated and the site will always be monitored, but it has been improved to the point where redevelopment is viable.

“There’s probably always going to be some kind of wells out there, but there’s no reason for them to stand in the way of development,” said Nichols.

Neighborhood reaction

After more than a decade of failed development proposals — most recently Surly Brewing was “95 percent sure” Shoreham was going to be the site of its massive brewing complex, according to Reich — and bickering over pollution cleanup, neighborhood residents are approaching any new plan with caution.

“Our relationship with Canadian Pacific has not been good over the years. We’re dealing with an extremely complex, extremely expensive and extremely large amount of pollution,” said Gayle Bonneville, who has served on the Shoreham Area Advisory Committee (SAAC) since its court-ordered inception in 1998.

The two paramount priorities SAAC has for any development at Shoreham are creating high-paying jobs and preserving the Roundhouse.

“Based on past planning sessions we’ve had, [the MNCC plan] is an aberration. I don’t know enough at this point to know whether that’s good or bad, but the focus on retail makes me a little nervous…retail doesn’t usually mean high-paying jobs,” said Bonneville.

Recovery Bikes, which recently moved into its new space on Central Ave. just three blocks down from the proposed velodrome, said they would welcome the biking complex.

“We’ve been doing great since we moved in here…if there’s a whole bike complex up there we’d be doing even more, moving into BMX and carrying more serious track bikes,” said Josh Baird, a manager at Recovery Bikes.

Reich said that The Quarry shopping center 2.5 miles southeast of Shoreham Yards serves an example of successful redevelopment of former polluted industrial site in Northeast.

“That was a real gnarly site, who knows what went on there…but it got to the point through remediation where it became manageable pollution, and that’s when a developer came in,” said Reich.