STL: First major work to upgrade Penrose Park Velodrome since 1980s

Momentum to rebuild the historic Penrose Park Velodrome in St. Louis has been building for years. The only velodrome in Missouri, and one of just 27 in the United States, Penrose Park was neglected and unusable for many years before an effort in the mid 2000s cleaned up and rehabilited the track to useful, though still fairly bumpy, state.

Penrose Park Velodrome 50th Anniversary (penroseparkvelo.com)
Penrose Park Velodrome 50th Anniversary (penroseparkvelo.com)

Today weekly races are held at the velodrome--the "Mr. Bumpy Face Track Racing Training Series"--and more substantial long-term improvements, backed by the City of St. Louis, may be in the works.

The work to renovate and maintain the velodrome has been a labor of love, with cyclists who use the track donating time, dollars, and sweat equity to keep the track operational.  A 2013 Post-Dispatch article gives an idea of the variety of people who use the velodrome:

That’s why Brinker, now a bike store owner in Columbia, Mo., recently returned to his old training ground. He and other cyclists want to convince people who may have never heard of the Penrose Park Velodrome that it is worth saving.

All it takes is an evening at the track, they say.

Matt Hartman leans on his bike and explains the race unfolding. He is 30, with tattoos extending from the sleeves of his SpokedSTL shirt. A dozen cyclists are flying around the track. Most are clad in biking shorts and shirts. All wear helmets. Their bicycles have no brakes or gears. These are fixed-gear bikes. Slowing down means riding high into a banked curve or crashing into the grass infield, as one cyclist with a slipped chain does just now.

In this race, the last rider drops out with each lap. Hartman points out an architect. A bike shop employee. An ad executive. Just two riders left. They are both couriers for Jimmy John’s. The riders do not appear bothered by the rough surface.

“It’s in really bad shape,” Hartman says. “But it’s good enough for us, for now.”

St. Louis City steps up

So people from the area and from around the state who value the velodrome have been using it regularly and devoting their own and effort to keep it going. But they have also been working to garner city support for upgrading the velodrome--support that will be necessary if the velodrome is to reach truly world-class status.  Last fall, the Penrose Park Velo Steering Committee made a major announcement about support from the City of St. Louis to take the first step in rehabilitating the velodrome

Penrose Park Velodrome (Rick Gould, penroseparkvelo.com)
Penrose Park Velodrome (Rick Gould, penroseparkvelo.com)

The Penrose Park Velo Steering Committee is pleased to announce the City of St. Louis

has issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for Architectural and Engineering Services for the Penrose Park Velodrome. The scope of work for this initial contract includes conceptual designs and cost estimates to rebuild the velodrome to a 333m metric distance, and may proceed to preparing construction documents. Reconstruction of the velodrome would be bid separately in the future, contingent on final cost estimates and availability of public and private funds. Submissions to the RFQ are due by Nov. 13th; interested parties should contact Bette Behan, City of St. Louis Board of Public Service, 314.589.6214.

The Steering Committee notes this is the first substantial investment the City of St. Louis has made in the facility since a 1980’s repaving project. There is considerable uncertainty about the cost to rebuild the facility, and hiring a team of consultants to study the site and develop an appropriate velodrome geometry and related facilities is a prudent approach before proceeding to a future construction phase. The engineering consultant will be selected based on a series of criteria with experience in comparable projects and an understanding of the unique challenges of velodrome construction weighted most heavily.

The Penrose Park Velodrome is the only velodrome facility in Missouri. It is owned by the City of St. Louis and resides in Penrose Park at Kingshighway Blvd. and I-70. The velodrome was built in 1962 and hosted a national championship in its inaugural year. Penrose Park continued a storied history of St. Louis track cycling dating back to the 1904 Olympic Games and before. In the 1970’s, a sewer collapsed under one of the banked turns on the track. Multiple repair efforts were made over the years with a more complete resurfacing finished in 1984 and again in 2005 via privately funded efforts. Despite serious degradation of the velodrome’s aging, undulated asphalt surface and the affectionate nickname “Mr. Bumpyface”, events and attendance have grown substantially recently. The last 2-3 years have seen record attendance while managed by the Penrose Park Steering Committee, a grassroots group of cyclists and enthusiasts who maintain the track, handle operations, host races, training and youth clinics.

Spectators at Penrose Park Velodrome (Andrew Mullins, penroseparkvelo.com)
Spectators at Penrose Park Velodrome (Andrew Mullins, penroseparkvelo.com)

The current RFQ represents an important step forward in realizing the local cycling community’s collective dream of a new training, racing and community facility available to cyclists around the region and families near Penrose Park. The Penrose Park Steering Committee is proud to help manage and maintain one of the few free, public velodromes in the United States, and is committed to helping realize the facility’s full potential.

Major congratulations go to the Steering Committee for their long-term commitment to the velodrome, and to the city for stepping forward with major support.

It will be exciting to see what the future of the Penrose Park Velodrome holds!

 

 

A very important part of MoBikeFed's Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri is to support people from all across Missouri who do all kinds of bicycling--from racing to commuting to trail riding to riding around the block with their grandchildren--and all types of walking, running, and hiking.  An important part of our job is to tell success stories, like the Penrose Park Velodrome story, of people in Missouri who have worked together to making bicycling and walking a little better in their communities.

Your membership and generous financial support of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation helps us tell those amazing stories--and help more of them become reality all around Missouri.

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