Photo by George Lauby
Brandon McCook talks to the council.
Photo by George Lauby
BMX supporters, outside City Hall after the vote. Front row: Bunny Hinde, Emily McCook, Allen Miles, Brandon McCook, Josh Osterhoudt
Back row: Leland Poppe, Karin Lange, Nicholas Spradlin, Stephen Willis, Chris Spradlin, Tiffany McCook, and Eric Schleeter.
Supporters of a BMX bicycle raceway were delighted Thursday when the city council finally agreed in principle to donate 20 acres of land on S. Buffalo Bill Ave.Although the council put stringent conditions on the deal, the conditional agreement brought smiles from organizers who said they have been stymied in fundraising for more than year, without the city’s commitment to provide land.
If the raceway is built, it will be part of what is now a 100-acre, undeveloped city park at the intersection of Walker Road and S. Buffalo.
To get there, organizers must raise $188,000 within nine months, either in cash or firmly pledged commitments, the council said. If that happens, the “308 BMX” group will get 20 acres with city utilities and a parking lot.
Other specifics would be hammered out in nine months, once the money is raised.
Chairman Brandon McCook has said the raceway would be only for pedal bicycles. He calls his organization 308 BMX, because it would serve the 308 area code and surrounding area. McCook, who lives across the street from the park (South Park), told the council that he aims to raise even more -- $250,000. He said with another $35,000 from the city’s Newburn Fund, the raceway would have about $100,000 more than basic construction would cost, as estimated by T.E. Engineering of North Platte.
McCook believes the raceway would be ideal for North Platte’s central location in the state and country, making the city a destination for a nationally sanctioned, rapidly growing sport.
During a prolonged discussion before the council voted, City Attorney Doug Stack stuck up for the city’s financial interests. He said he’d heard no proposals from 308 BMX to lease the property from the city.
“Right now, it’s an open book,” he said.
McCook stressed the land would be available for public use most of the time, and would be willing to talk about renting the land on 4-5 race days a year.
Councilman Lawrence Ostendorf said some nearby residents are concerned about noise, lights and dust.
McCook said dust, lights and noise would be minimal. He said the track is watered routinely, and the bikes are not motorized, so the sounds would not be a big factor.
Councilman Glenn Petersen questioned how long McCook’s BMX group would be around. He said he’d talked to another community, where membership fell from 50 to about 12.
Also, Pedersen said the city’s wellness community is expected to come before the council and ask for money, too.
McCook said the USA BMX organization has been around for 40 years and he doesn’t “see it falling away anytime soon.”
That prompted councilman Jim Carman to ask Petersen if the wellness committee has its eye on that property, too.
Petersen said no.
Councilman Andrew Lee told McCook, “it is great that you’re wanting to do something and use your entrepreneurial spirit, but you’re a long ways from collecting the money that you need.”
Lee, as well as Carman, suggested the council give verbal support to the project, so fundraisers have something definite to start with -- the land.
“That’s been our dilemma for the past year,” McCook said. “Without a commitment from the city, we cannot get financial pledges.”
Stack said rent or a lease for the property should be discussed.
“Taxpayers are entitled to a monetary return on the property,” he said.
Lee took exception, asking if users rent softball fields or the Cody Park pavilion. He said rents for those sorts of things are under the purview of the public service department.
In response to a question from councilman Brook Baker, McCook said he hopes to be racing by spring.
“We are just asking to use the property,” he said. “We don’t want to own it.”
McCook pointed out that nothing has been done with the property for 20 years, so putting it into use would be a positive improvement, and drawing bicycle racers to town would boost the economy.
Josh Osterhough of the Kearney track said TriCity BMX does not pay a fee there to the city, just provides insurance coverage through the national organization, USA BMX.
Osterhough, who actually lives in Broken Bow, said he and a couple other volunteers maintain the Kearney track. They want to see a BMX track in North Platte to boost the sport.
“I want to see the sport survive, and see this track get up and going,” Osterhough said.
City Administrator Jim Hawks asked Osterhough how many people typically attend the races.
Osterhough said there can be 250-300 racers and 750-1,000 people in the stands. He said there are no spectator fees.
Other supporters, including Bunny Hinde and Karin Lange of North Platte, joined McCook at the podium to ask for support.
Hinde said the 308 BMX group has worked hard for the past year to obtain a 501© 3 non-profit status from the IRS.
“We raised quite a bit of money right away, but stalled because we are not sure the land would be there,” she said.
Lange said grant applications came to a standstill, too.
“We can’t write grants until the land is available,” she said. “There is a lot of money available that I think we can secure.”
Lange said she worked 30 years for the Nebraska Department of Labor, and found it difficult to recruit businesses and employees to North Platte because of concerns about recreational facilities.
“We’d get calls from as far away as California,” she said. “They want to know, first, what are the schools like, and second, what is there for recreation?”
The catch-22 quandary has become very frustrating, she said.
Stack spoke again.
“You’re not asking for exclusive use?” he asked. “You’re open to use by any and all?”
Lange said yes.
Business owner Chris Spradlin told the council he is willing to donate to the track, but cannot commit without knowing the land is there.
Spradlin said his business contributes to community projects every year in return for a tax deduction, but needs to have something definite for the business deduction.
The discussion ended with the council voting to require 308 BMX to raise $188,000 within nine months, then return to work out the final details.
The vote was unanimous.