Presentation for proposed Velodrome at FDR Park leaves big questions unanswered

Over 150 neighborhood residents and cyclists packed into a hot basement room at the American Swedish Historical Museum to hear a presentation to the Philadelphia Park and Recreation Commission from the group of developers looking to build a $100 million velodrome at FDR Park. 

The developers, going by the name Project 250, say the total cost of the project will be about $140 million. They have promised to spend $10 million – $17 million refurbishing the Olmsted Brothers designed park: $5 million – $7 million for a water treatment plant for the currently algae-riddled lakes, and $5 million -$10 million in other park improvements which will include draining and dredging the lakes, refurbishing the trails and other landscaping.*

While the $5 million -$10 million range seems large, the costs of remediating the lakes are difficult to ascertain without knowing whether extensive environmental remediation will be required.

Throughout the presentation, the Project 250 presenters emphasized that the velodrome would be so much more than just a racing venue: it will be a recreation center, a hub for regional cycling, a concert venue and more. 

Because the velodrome would be built on city parkland, the city’s Open Lands Protection law requires the developers replace the 4 acres it’ll use with a new park elsewhere. The developers pointed to vacant land across Pattison Avenue from the American Swedish Historical Museum for such replacement acreage, which is currently controlled by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Corporation.  Because the land is under PIDC control, there is a legal question of whether that satisfies the Open Lands Protection law.

This was the first step of many before the project could go forward: it must also be vetted by the National Park Service, and Philadelphia’s historical and art commissions. And, of course, Project 250 must secure financing to fund construction.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner James Straw asked the question with the biggest question mark: “Without [funds from stadium naming rights], which is a important component of the funding package, this is probably a dead project, right?”

“Correct” responded Philip J. Senechal, Project 250’s CEO.   

While a beautiful velodrome and a revitalized FDR park would be welcomed by nearly all, the question remains whether this project can pay for itself.  The naming rights for PPL Park in Chester, where the Union regularly play to sellout crowds of 18,000, reportedly went for $20 million over 11 years. That stadium cost $122 million, and was heavily subsidized by the state and Chester. In 2013, Parx Casino paid $500,000 for the naming rights to the Philly Cycling Classic for two years. 

*Correction: a previous version of this article had the incorrect name for the architects of FDR Park..

According to the Project 250’s Alternatives Analysis, they expect to get $63 million.  Part of this rosy projection seems to depend, heavily, on the site’s location near I-95.

Philly’s other stadiums are also highly visible from I-95: the naming rights to the Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field went for $139 million over 20 years back in 2002; the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park was $95 million over 25 years. Those stadiums sit 68,000 and 43,000 respectively; the velodrome will hold 5,844.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal