Detroit — The Detroit Fitness Foundation was formed last summer “to reach and motivate the youth of the whole area,” according to Dale Hughes, executive director of the foundation.
And he and an “angel donor” are going to do that by building a $4-million velodrome and sports complex in a park near the city’s Midtown neighborhood, which will open by late September.
It will be the second indoor velodrome in the country.
Hughes announced construction crews will break ground in the spring on the multi-sport complex at the Tolan Playfield, a park tucked behind the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Detroit Receiving Hospital near Eastern Market and the Dequindre Cut.
The park is named after Thomas Edward Tolan, a local Olympic gold medalist who set records in the 100-yard dash, and Olympic 100- and 200-meter sprints in the 1930s, and was at one time dubbed the world’s fastest human. He won 300 races in his career.
The complex, which has been working through city approval processes and zoning changes since the summer of 2015, will have an Olympic-style cycling velodrome, and infield fitness area and cafe, a walking track, and a track for running and skating. The fitness foundation plans to hold community events, free access, and sports equipment for children and adults. It will occupy 1.4 acres of the roughly 9-acre park.
Hughes said an “angel donor” is funding the entire facility, and donating $125,000 for improvements to the park. The city will spend $250,000 to add new playground equipment, a picnic shelter, tables, fitness areas, a skateboard ramp and horseshoe pits. Basketball courts already in the park will be refurbished.
Renovations will also add parking spaces and new walkways throughout the park.
Work on the park outside of the dome will take about a year to complete.
Hughes has built more than 20 velodromes, including the one used in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. He said the silent donor specifically required that the project have a velodrome, but both he and the donor wanted the complex to address more than cycling.
The foundation is seeking a sponsor for the naming rights. The Detroit Fitness Foundation will build everything, pay all the bills and run the facility for six years, at which point they can renew the contract with the city for another six years. The facility is not funded by any city or taxpayer money, Hughes said.
The velodrome will add a new sport to the city, and activate a park that sat mostly unused during the winter months in Detroit. The space and track will be large enough to hold Olympic trial events, and host professional races, Hughes said.
He also wants to get new people into the sport of track racing.
“We have a driving force to be able to get a kid to the Olympics,” he said. “Another goal is to get people active.”
Hughes said the facility might tap into Detroit’s already strong bicycle culture.
“Cycling in general has gone through some evolution,” he said. “It was really the running craze of the 70s.”
The facility also will require new employees, and Hughes hopes to hold internship programs in sports marketing, he said.
Mayor Mike Duggan said in a news release the facility fits the city’s plan to invest in parks and neighborhoods.
“Having safe and healthy spaces within our neighborhoods for families to live and play is essential to our city’s continued growth,” he said. “The Detroit Fitness Foundation initiative will be a great asset to our community and its residents.”
Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said the investment in the park will “reignite” the neighborhood. The complex will sit in between the city’s bustling Midtown neighborhood to the west, and the Forest Park neighborhood to the east.
“The youth of Detroit deserve a world-class facilities such as this,” she said.