Lexus nabs naming rights for Detroit’s first velodrome

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Downtown Detroit’s newest sports stadium will give Lexus a sought-after advertising presence in a city increasingly drawing worldwide attention.

The global luxury brand of Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. landed the naming rights for a $4 million velodrome set to open in January in Midtown. The Lexus Velodrome will house a 166-meter indoor cycling arena, lanes for walking, running and skating, and an infield for exercise classes and other events. It will be the second indoor velodrome in the U.S., and the first in Detroit.

The Lexus Velodrome will open in January

It’s Detroit’s fourth major sporting venue within the 7.2-square-mile greater downtown area. And it is due to open less than six months after Little Caesars Arena hosted its first game in Cass Corridor, and at the same time Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, businessman Dan Gilbert and the William Clay Ford family are trying to bring a Major League Soccer team to Detroit.

The track also opens as Detroit consistently becomes a more serious contender to host international sporting events like the Olympics, the X Games and the World Cup. Those at Detroit Fitness Foundation, which will run the track, plan to bring in Olympians for training.

“We are thrilled and honored to have Lexus as a partner,” said Dale Hughes, executive director of the Detroit Fitness Foundation. “Their commitment now and in the years ahead supports both the DFF mission and the City of Detroit’s plans to invest in its parks, its neighborhoods and its people, especially youth.”

Lexus saw a number of benefits in the velodrome. Namely, it plasters the Lexus name next to I-75, where thousands commute to work in Detroit every day. Curt McAllister, a company spokesman, said the sponsorship continues a tradition in cycling for Lexus, which currently sponsors the Canadian national cycling team, and helps the brand connect with the millennial demographic.

The new facility also aims to boost the community. Hughes will offer free access for children, free walking time for senior citizens, and scheduled bicycle racing and training. An anonymous donor is funding the project.

Construction crews broke ground earlier in 2017 on the complex at the Tolan Playfield, which sits just west of Interstate 75 and north of Mack Ave. in Midtown near Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

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. At one time dubbed the world’s fastest human, he won 300 races in his career.

The main feature of the Lexus Velodrome, which will occupy 1.4 acres of the roughly 9-acre park, will be the Olympic-style cycling track. There will be a cafe inside as well. Hughes has 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.

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 offer more than cycling. The Detroit Fitness Foundation will build the entire facility, pay all the bills and run the place for six years, with an option to renew the contract with the city for another six years.

City officials said the facility will offer a safe, new place for families to play and exercise in the city. Hughes said he hopes to get younger people into cycling, and potentially train future Olympians at the velodrome. He said the facility — which aims to capitalize on Detroit’s already prolific bicycle culture — will allow him to employ Detroiters and host internships in sports marketing.

For Lexus, the facility allows the company to engage the community.

“Lexus is committed to giving back to the local community and we are proud to be the naming rights sponsor of the complex,” Mark Nazario, general manager of Lexus Central Area, said in a statement. “We look forward to being a part of the positive impact the complex will have on community members and metro Detroit.”

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau