Is Gilbert Really Serious about BMX?

by Mike Webb
Gilbert Resident

In case you haven’t heard Gilbert has been planning a public/private deal with USA BMX to build an Olympic size bike track right in the middle of south Gilbert. The track, BMX offices, and museum will be built just South of Germann Road, on the West side of Greenfield in the now empty former farm land that was part of the infamous Zinke Dariy land purchase from a few short years ago. The BMX facility would be northeast of the soccer fields already in this area. The facility being discussed will have seating for four thousand people with an expected attendance of up to eight thousand people several times a year when regional and national events are held. This deal with BMX will also include a public freestyle bike park and twenty acres of gravel overflow parking in addition to parking at the BMX track itself.

As far as I can tell, I was the first Gilbert citizen (that is not associated with any special interest groups) to find out any details regarding the facility. This was on March 7, when I met town employees Dan Henderson and M. Scott Powell from the Office of Economic Development, along with John David, COO of USA BMX. It was also at this meeting that I learned that the first open public meeting was scheduled just four days later on March 11 and that the project was scheduled to be voted on by the Town Council on March 27, just 20 days after I found out about the project. However, after expressing my concern over the timing and only having twenty days’ notice before the vote to approve the project, the Town moved the vote date to April 17.* That’s still not much time for review by the general public.

I was invited by both USA BMX and the Town of Gilbert to attend a race event at the Black Mountain BMX track in north Phoenix on March 15. So to be diplomatic about this situation and to possibly ease my concerns, I agreed to attend. I packed up my two nine-year olds and carpooled with Mayor Lewis and his son to the event. I believe full disclosure is always important, so I will tell you that we had VIP passes and sat in the VIP tent where they provided lunch consisting of a burrito and soda.

My opinion didn’t change while at the event.  It was loud, dusty, crowded, and there were cars everywhere. The announcer covering the races over the loud speaker was almost none stop for the nearly three hours that we were there. There were also awnings everywhere with vendors selling food and beverages, as well as manufacturers of BMX products including bikes, helmets, apparel, tires, etc.  I believe some of the tents and awnings were for racers and their sponsors. Balloons were being released, and music was being played over the loud speakers between races. It reminded me of a giant flee market.  (See photos and video HERE.)

Before I met with town staff and BMX officials on March 7, I had an open mind and thought that this might be a good thing for the area. But during this meeting, which took place next to the field where this project is being planned, as I listened to the details regarding activities, and the number of people and potential traffic, I grew more and more concerned about the impact this facility would have on the area.

I do want to make a couple of things clear.

It is my understanding that the original public meeting was scheduled for about a week before March 27 when the Town Council was to vote on this project. However, the Town Council instructed staff to move the meeting up to April 11 to give a little more time to inform the public. So even though some members of the Town Council are all for it and seem to have already made up their minds in favor of the BMX track, I will give them credit for doing that.

At the public meeting held on March 11, there seemed to be a misunderstanding by some of the BMX supporters.The point was repeatedly brought up that those of us who spoke against the track and expressed our concerns were somehow against families participating in events together or that we were against kids having fun. Comments like “it’s great for the kids” or “it keeps kids off the streets” kept coming up. Yet none of us there that night said anything negative about the sport, the families involved in the sport, or the kids. In fact everyone who was there has kids as far as I know.

One comment that was made about keeping kids off the streets was particularly baffling to me, because I don’t believe we have that problem here in Gilbert.

So on to the point of this post.

Here are some of the main concerns and questions that need to be answered regarding this project.

Traffic congestion – A traffic study has not been completed regarding the impact of the BMX facility. Only after this issue was brought up by me and then at the public meeting by several people was there a traffic study arranged by town staff. This study began on March 15th at the BMX event in North Phoenix.

Other questions and concerns regarding traffic include:

Greenfield is supposed to be a secondary corridor not a primary, so why is it being given such a dense traffic load?

This area is already congested with traffic, so much so that often my neighbors and I are not able to make a left hand turn out of our one exit street.

How will traffic be handled for the approximately 3,000 plus homes that are yet to be built south of our area? These homes will likely bring about 4,500 new cars to the area.

What else is going to be built in the town owned land at this intersection and how will it affect traffic in the future?

Noise study – At the time of the public open house there had not been a noise study done. Just like the traffic report, this study began on March 15 at the same BMX event in North Phoenix. I attended this BMX race event on the 15th, and it was louder than I wanted it to be.

How loud will it get? Nobody knows, and any comparisons being made to other local BMX tracks are irrelevant since there aren’t any that compares in size or design to the one being proposed in Gilbert. The set up of the Black Mountain BMX track in North Phoenix does not have seating, and the crowd was spread out with the only people around the track being those standing next to the fence that surrounded the actual track. I think it’s obvious that when a crowd congregates it gets much louder.

There are also concerns about the buzzer going off at the beginning of each race. I have been told directly by a homeowner who lives near the track in Chandler he can hear the buzzer inside his home.

Each race is announced as it happens over a loud speaker, and this type of noise can carry for a long distance. Again the announcer at the event on the 15th went almost none stop for at least three hours and was still going when we left. Remember the proposed track will be larger.

How will the noise, once a study is finished, be controlled so that it doesn’t disrupt homeowners or others using nearby existing and future facilities?

How will this affect our home values? – I think it’s fair that we know how a track like this will affect the home values in the area. I don’t know of many people who will be looking to purchase a home near a noisy venue that will be used mostly on the weekends when people are home with the intention of getting away from it all and spending time with family or on things they enjoy doing at home.  

Financial projections

How much will the town make from this facility?

How long will it take to get a return on the “investment” if at all?

Financial viability of USA BMX – As a Gilbert citizen, I think this information should be made public. The citizens of Gilbert will all be responsible to pay for the bond, if BMX is not able to fulfill its end of the bargain, so we should all know with whom the town is making us go into business.

USA BMX is a private company, and if they are financially viable, why can’t they find their own financing, buy their own land, and build their own facility?

Police and Fire resources

Have usage estimates and costs to service the facility been done?

As the Town found examples of other BMX tracks in other parts of the country and information from local authorities regarding issues and frequency of police, fire and medical needs?

Free membership? – Only .11 percent of the residents in Gilbert are members of BMX. That’s one tenth of one percent. Why are these residents getting a free membership as part of the deal? Those who use it should pay to use it especially since all Gilbert citizens will be responsible for the debt. Maybe instead of giving them a free membership and discounted fees they should pay full price and that money should go directly to the town to pay back the debt.

How well have we done with Field of Dreams? – Since this is a public/private deal like Field of Dreams, we should look very closely at how that deal is working out so far and how it looks for our future.

Are we losing money?  Yes.

Are we making as much as we are supposed to be making from that public/private project?  No.

What could the BMX project actually end up costing? We know that the Field of Dreams deal ended up costing millions more than it was supposed to.

Does this facility fit the character of the area they are proposing to build it in? Is there a more fitting place in town for this facility?

Adjacent land – The Town has no idea at this point what may end up being built in the Town-owned land adjacent to and near the proposed BMX track.

How much traffic, noise, and impact will be generated by the unknown?

Public freestyle bike park – As part of this deal a public freestyle bike park is being proposed that will be open to everyone from anywhere to use every day of the week, including weekends when homeowners value the quiet, country feel that this area has provided for years.

How will this public freestyle bike park affect the surrounding homes and property values?

What kind of traffic will be generated from the public access park?

What will the park cost the town to build and then to maintain?

The Building hasn’t even been designed yet.  What are we approving?

When speaking with the CEO of USA BMX at the public open house, I learned that the BMX facility has not even been designed. So initially the Town was willing to possibly vote yes on this project just twenty days after the public open house without a final design. If this gets approved and funding made available before it has even been designed, then we have no guarantee about anything.

We have no guarantee that it will be designed to control noise, lighting, crowds, and traffic in and out of the facility, or anything else for that matter. We don’t know what the end cost will be if the design hasn’t even been done! The rendition shown at the public meeting is of a $70 million dollar facility that is not going to be built. It could look very different from what has been shown to us.

So, why are we doing this? What are the supposed benefits? Where are the details? I requested information from the Town a week ago, and I haven’t received or heard anything from anyone. What’s the delay? If this is such a great deal for the Town, then prove it.

Even if it does prove to be a good deal, why is my local government using taxpayer dollars to guarantee debt that will benefit a privately owned company? I haven’t asked or received anything from government to help me in my business, and nobody asked me if I wanted public money supporting a private company. Is it the job of our Town Council to pick and choose who gets a public investment and who doesn’t? Should any government, local, state, or national government be giving public money to a private enterprise?

I hope the Town doesn’t intend to try and push this deal through without proper and fair exposure of the deal in its entirety. And I don’t mean give us the information at a public meeting a week or two before it gets voted on.

I guess we wait… but not for long.

See pictures and video from the March 15 BMX race by clicking HERE.

For the usual positive spin by the media on the deal, without concern about negatives, see a recent East Valley Tribune article HERE.

*UPDATE.  Since the original March 20 blog post on "Mike Webb Thinks," the item has been removed from the Town Council Agenda.  The open public meeting regarding BMX is still scheduled for April 8.