Bicycle track given reprieve But BMX course closes Aug. 31 for grocery

track patrons unhappy

July 25, 1996|By Alex Gordon | Alex Gordon,SUN STAFF

The Columbia BMX Supertrack -- the state's only such bicycle-racing track -- has been granted a one-month reprieve by the Rouse Co., which had ordered it closed as of July 31 to make way for a 55,000-square-foot Safeway.

But patrons and the operator of the track in Columbia's Harper's Choice village don't plan to ride off quietly into the sunset.

"They are not looking out for the kids, which the track is for -- they are looking out for the mighty dollar," track operator Darrin Alexander said of Rouse. "When I go out to the track, all I can think is, 'How can Rouse want to do this?' "

The quarter-mile dirt track, on which young people race single-speed, knobby-tire bicycles, is on Rouse-owned land behind the village center and has been operated rent-free under a license agreement since its creation 18 years ago.

According to Rouse Senior Vice President Alton J. Scavo, the agreement stipulates that the track site is temporary and that Rouse has the right to reclaim the land at any time to put it to "its ultimate use."

That time, Scavo said, has come.

"I am ticked that someone who has had such a generous situation would say he has been mistreated," Scavo said. "We get no joy out of closing it up, but we believe there is another use for it -- to get the village center back on track."

The decision to replace the track with a supermarket -- of which Alexander was informed in March -- was made in the interest of the ailing village center's economic viability, Scavo said.

The center has been without a supermarket since December, when Valu Food closed after failing to compromise on a lease renewal with Rouse. The proposed Safeway, to open in fall 1997, will be double the size of the Valu Food.

"We could never convince a prospective supermarket operator that the original 27,000 square feet [of Valu Food] would be adequate and functional in today's market," Scavo said. "The village center is seen as the heart of the community because the health of the village center reflects the health of the community. The supermarket is the key for that village center."

Plans call for the vacant Valu Food to be torn down and replaced with more parking space, and the existing McDonald's to be moved closer to the village center courtyard. Scavo said he hopes Safeway will break ground by fall.

Alexander recognizes Rouse's right to reclaim the land, but laments the decision to do so. "These people have no clue how good this sport is for the kids," he said.

Alexander successfully petitioned Rouse for an extension so that the track could be host for a major national racing event over the jTC July Fourth weekend. The track also will be host for two state competitions in August.

The track, rated No. 1 on the East Coast last year by the American Bicycle Association, attracts up to 200 ABA-sanctioned racers each Sunday and is open to the public the rest of the week.

Wayne Christmann, general manager of Columbia's village centers, has worked with the two parties and believes that the Aug. 31 deadline is fair to both.

"We'll accommodate [the track] to the best of our ability, but eventually our relationship will have to end," Christmann said. " Aug. 31 will be the conclusion of our relationship, and use of the bike track will terminate on that date."

Alexander said Rouse has not helped to find another suitable track site. The search is complicated because of permits and other specifications, he said.

Scavo, however, said that "if the BMX track is a viable enterprise, then it should be viable in some other location. I find it impossible to believe that this location is the only one in Maryland for the track."

Scavo said he hopes that the future will bode well for the village center and the BMX track industry.

"For 18 years, it has been a terrific relationship," Scavo said. "I hope that when all is said and done, that the viability of the village center will be clear and that the BMX track will find a permanent home."

But Alexander is not optimistic and speaks of the track in a distinctly past tense. "This track is like a historic landmark, known nationwide," he said. "Hundreds and hundreds of kids now have no place to go."

Meanwhile, at the track, some spoke of lining up their bicycles in protest when the bulldozers arrive, while others still had trouble accepting what is to come.

"A Safeway for this?" asked discouraged 13-year-old Travis Dellinger of Savage, gazing wide-eyed over the course.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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