Developers may try again for OK on $120 million cycling track in Philly’s FDR Park

 (NewsWorks File Photo)

(NewsWorks File Photo)

The plan to build a indoor cycling track over four acres of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park has lost some of the air in its tires since the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commission recommended to City Council the facility not be built.

 

But the Project 250 developers say they will likely circle around again with a new proposal addressing the concerns of the commission in an effort to strike a deal in the South Philly location.

The world-class velodrome, they said will improve the 358-acre park along the Delaware River and provide the visibility needed to draw sponsors.

The commission, citing the plan’s failure to comply with standards laid out in the city’s Open Land Protection Ordinance, said the proposal merited further exploration for other alternative spaces.

But the commission doesn’t have the final word. City Council can still decide to grant land to Project 250 for the velodrome cycling facility, though the ordinance does stipulate that the council give the commission’s recommendation substantial weight.

“We want to re-engage the parks commission because we know what their mission is, we know what they’re trying to do, and we think our goals are compatible,” said Project 250 CEO Phil Senechal. “Obviously, we haven’t communicated it effectively enough, but we have no intention of going to war over this.”

The resubmission of the proposal would be a first for the commission, though there is no rule against it, according to Nancy Goldenberg, chairwoman.

“The law doesn’t say anything about a follow-up or what happens after we make a determination, the legislation doesn’t include any appeal process, so that is unprecedented at the moment,” said Goldenberg. “If they want to do another alternative analysis, they would have to go through the process again.”

Since the ordinance was established in 2011, the commission has considered two other proposals.  Outward Bound was able to negotiate with the Audubon Society to open a facility, and the Temple Rowing Club relinquished its plan for a new boat house on Kelly Drive and instead renovated the East Park Canoe House in 2014.

This is the first proposal the commission has not supported from the start.

The Philadelphia Parks Alliance has been an outspoken critic of the cycling track project from the beginning and strongly supported the commission’s decision.

“It would really be chipping away at the parkland and set a terribly dangerous precedent for developers using parkland when is expedient for them to do so for financial reasons,” said Lauren Bornfriend, who heads the PPA.

Senechal wouldn’t go so far as to say that it was FDR Park or bust for the project, but he said it would be much harder to get sponsors to pay for the $120 million building on private land that lacks the visibility that a location near the South Philly Sports Complex provides.

Senechal said part of the project would include up to $15 million for park improvements, and advertisements would consist of a single large sign.

“Yes, the city’s done a lot to the park but they can’t afford to really do what needs to be done,” said Senechal. “Some aspects look wonderful, but, down at the south end, it doesn’t really at all. Does it make sense to have an ordinance to paralyze economic development or improvement of the park system itself? I really don’t believe that’s the intent of it.”

The velodrome would be the first indoor cycling facility in the United States to meet international competition standards, and would qualify for hosting world championship or even Olympic events.

If City Council did grant an ordinance for a public parkland lease, the proposal would still need approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as well as other agencies.

Senechal did not provide a timetable for when Project 250 would put forth a new proposal, if that were the direction it decides to take.

Obviously we’ve got to do it better, so we have to see what we can do to resubmit,” said Senechal. “From the beginning we always thought this was going to be a process that takes some time.”

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