When Extreme Meets Mainstream
1 Feb, 2018By: Tracey Schelmetic
Municipal extreme sports parks, or public venues for skateboarding and BMX cycling, have a history that traces back to public nuisance laws. City officials, overwhelmed by street racers in public areas, ultimately determined it was better to provide dedicated venues than attempt to ban riders from parks. BMX first found its way into municipal infrastructure in the late 1960s at Palms Park in West Los Angeles.
Skateboarding has a similar story. Following the sport’s rise in popularity in the 1970s, towns like Ocean City, Maryland, banned riders from streets for safety reasons and resident complaints, prompting skaters to request dedicated spaces. For surf towns such as Ocean City, skateboarding and BMX became the perfect sports for a beach town in the off-season. In June of 1976, Ocean City opened the first municipal skate park in the world. Many others would follow.
While skateboarding’s participation numbers are currently on the wane, there are still over six million riders in the U.S. alone, and the addition of the sport to the 2020 Olympic Games will likely boost its profile. BMX participation has been on the rise: between 2015 and 2016, BMX saw a 15 percent spike in participation, according to one industry report, which sets the number of participants in the U.S. at three million. BMX has been an Olympic event since 2008.
At the same time, the economic impact of both sports is being felt. Cities are actively welcoming competitive events; after all, the big names, such as the Dew Tour, XGames and more, bring in not just athletes and their families, but plenty of spectator and media interest.
Some localities with sufficient infrastructure (or space to set it up) encourage both BMX and skateboarding. Following are some highlighted locations with both experience and facilities for hosting skateboard and BMX events.
Fayetteville, which is located within easy driving distance of Dallas, St. Louis and Memphis, is actively engaged in bringing skateboarding and BMX events to town. Its primary infrastructure is Walker Skate Park, an 8,000-square-foot facility located five minutes from downtown. John Lamparski, sports sales manager at the Fayetteville CVB, says the park is a hidden treasure, where temporary structures can be easily set up for special events.
“That’s something we’ve done with other events,” he told SDM. “We’re accommodating and willing to help in any way to make sure the event is a success, including finding volunteers and preparing welcome bags. We’re also working on a program to provide coupons for participants for local businesses and restaurants.”
Walker State Park is within 10 minutes of hotels (approximately 2,100 rooms) as well as shopping and restaurants. Nearby is a famously eclectic collection of attractions, including the artist commune Terra Studios, the Walmart museum and the Daisy Airgun Museum (the chief product of which was famously mentioned in the movie, “A Christmas Story”).
“It’s a unique area that has everything you might want: the convenience of a downtown area set in the mountains,” said Lamparski.
Grand Junction, Colorado
Grand Junction is no stranger to BMX. The city has been home to USA BMX’s Mile High Nationals Supercross series for years, and has also hosted the Colorado State Championship Finals since 2008. National events have attracted approximately 1,000 participants and 3,000 spectators. The city’s world-class BMX facility was built in 2015 on the Mesa County Fairgrounds, and it’s one of only four in the U.S. with an Olympic-size starting hill. The outdoor facility, which also has an amateur hill, features covered arenas for meeting or reception events. Within Grand Junction, there are also two dedicated skateboard facilities, including the 9,000-square-foot Eagle Rim Park Skatepark and 18,000-square-foot Westlake Park Skatepark.
“Our community is really outdoor recreation-centric,” said Jennifer Stoll of the Greater Grand Junction Sports Commission. “We’ve had great success in hosting the state BMX championships and the BMX Mile High Nationals. We offer our organization as a one-stop shop for event directors.”
The region, which has about 3,000 hotel rooms, already appeals to outdoor sports enthusiasts because of its thousands of miles of tracks and trails for mountain and road biking, as well as its proximity to the Colorado National Monument.
Greenville, North Carolina
Greenville, nicknamed “Pro Town USA,” hosted one leg of the Transjam BMX tour in 2011 and again in 2015, attracting approximately 500 participants and attendees. Andrew Schmidt of the Greenville-Pitt County CVB noted the city is popular with highly-ranked BMX riders and is welcoming to skateboard events.
“We’re planning a renaissance of our BMX and skateboarding,” he said. “One of the highlights of Greenville BMX is that about 50 percent of the riders on the tour lived and trained here.”
For large events, Greenville offers its Five Points Plaza, which has space for infrastructure, spectators and activities. Additionally, Jaycee Park has an extreme sport facility with both BMX and skateboard ramps. Schmidt noted that Greenville loves skateboarding as passionately as it loves BMX, and it’s well-suited for long-distance skateboarding events, which require long stretches of flat land.
Jaycee Park is located in Greenville’s uptown district, a six-by-10 block area with 35 restaurants, three breweries, galleries and shops. The next two years will see an additional $700 million of public and private development. The region offers approximately 2,200 hotel rooms, and is an hour and 20 minutes from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Huntington Beach, California
Huntington Beach, or “Surf City, USA,” has been the home of the U.S. Open of Surfing for years. In 2018, the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing will arrive in the city for a nine-day celebration of surfing, BMX (the Vans BMX Pro Cup) and skateboarding (the Vans Park Series). The event is expected to attract about 300 athletes and thousands of spectators. In addition to the sports line-up, it will feature movie premieres, retail and art exhibitions and product demos. BMX and skateboard events will be held on the north side of the pier in a purpose-built bowl with stadium seating.
In 2016 and 2017, the Huntington Beach area hosted the Vans BMX Street Invitational at the Vans Off the Wall Skatepark, which is located seven miles inland from the pier. Both years, the event attracted 30 world-renowned BMX street riders and several hundred attendees.
Huntington Beach features 10 miles of coastline with five public beaches as well as a variety of hotels, restaurants, shopping and tourist attractions. The city is centrally located to most of Southern California’s family-friendly attractions (LAX Airport is 25 miles away) including Disneyland (19 miles away) as well as Carlsbad, Newport Beach, Legoland and the Long Beach Aquarium.
According to Jennifer Tong of Visit Huntington Beach, the CVB’s sales team is ready to cater to BMX and skateboard event needs.
“We can find room blocks because we have great relationships with hotel partners,” she said. “We’re even willing to work on permits for new skateparks. We’re a good stepping stone to every other department that event planners would need in terms of hospitality and city services.”
Greater Johnstown/Cambria County, Pennsylvania
Johnstown’s Highland Regional Park, the city’s primary facility, has hosted the BMX Pennsylvania State Qualifying event in the past. The track is a USA BMX-sanctioned facility that is longer than the average track (which means it can be easily configured as a professional track), and located near venues for indoor events.
Cambria County has about 700 hotel rooms within a 10-mile radius of the track and offers museums and heritage attractions as well as shops and restaurants. Proximity to the Stony Creek River means access to water sports, including tubing and Class IV rapids. The area is largely a drive-in market, but the Pittsburgh International Airport is a two-hour drive away. The local CVB is ready and willing to help, according to Nicole Waligora of the Johnstown/Cambria County CVB.
“In the past, we’ve assisted event planners with hotel room nights and special rates,” she said. “We provide welcome bags for athletes and hospitality tents and tables so attendees can find restaurants and attractions. We also promote the event to our local media: we have a good working relationship with them, and always get good coverage.”
Ocean City, Maryland
When it comes to attracting extreme sports, having 10 miles of public-access beach helps. Ocean City is a barrier island, so it has an ocean on one side and a bay on the other, leaving plenty of space for beach and water activities as well as waterfront dining. From 2011 to 2015, the city was home to a leg of the Dew Tour (BMX, surf and skate), with attendance in 2015 topping 100,000 over four days. While the Dew Tour used the historic 17,000-foot Skate Bowl for demos and kids’ activities, the competitions took place on infrastructure installed on the beach by Dew Tour operators.
“Skateboarding has been part of our culture for a long time in Ocean City,” said Donna Abbott, Director of Tourism and Marketing for Ocean City.
Because of its popularity as a beach vacation destination, the Ocean City area has approximately 9,500 hotel rooms and more than 28,000 vacation rentals. Abbott notes that there are rooms for every price point.
“Nearly every hotel and motel in the town is a member of the CVB,” she said. “We put out leads for hotels for however many rooms are needed for an event. We help promote any event that’s booked in our facilities through our vibrant social media sites and any other tools that we have in our box to create awareness of the event. We can coordinate meetings with business community representatives to assist with potential sponsorships, and arrange site visits and tours.”
Ocean City’s famous boardwalk is a big attraction: it’s three miles long and lined with shops, restaurants, amusements parks, water parks and go-kart tracks. The region is accessible to most of the eastern seaboard, and adjacent to the Salisbury, Maryland, airport, which offers connections to Philadelphia and Charlotte.
Rock Hill/York County, South Carolina
In July of 2017, athletes and spectators from 48 countries descended upon York County for the UCI BMX World Championships. The 10-day event, which attracted 3,700 riders and 55,000 spectators, had a $19.2 million economic impact on York County, exceeding the predicted $13 million.
“It was a big win for the city of Rock Hill,” said J. Auvis Cole of the Rock Hill/York County CVB. “It was held at the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track, which opened in August 2014 as an addition to the Rock Hill cycling community. It’s the first Olympic-caliber BMX training facility open to the general public on the U.S. east coast.”
In addition to the permanent structure at the track, temporary facilities were added by event planners for the World Championships. The track is part of Rock Hill’s ambitious Riverwalk development on the Catawba River, a 1,000-acre mixed-use site that features restaurants, shops, a closed criterium course for bike racing and the 250-meter Giordana Velodrome cycling track. Nearby is a seven-mile mountain bike track. Interstate 77 runs right through the area, and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is 25 minutes away.
According to Cole, the CVB provides a variety of services to event planners, including hotel accommodations, welcome bags and advertising.
“We own and operate our own housing bureau,” he said. “We’re able to help event planners secure lower rates for their groups. We also partner with multiple organizations for volunteers, and have created a Visit York County smartphone that essentially acts like a virtual employee of the CVB to help attendees discover how to eat, sleep and play.” SDM