The Shoreham Yards in northeast Minneapolis and its historic 48-stall railroad roundhouse have been eyed as a potential redevelopment site for years, so far without success.
Now several of the leaders of the outdoor bicycling velodrome at the National Sports Center in Blaine and some partners are pitching a new vision for the polluted former Soo Line hub — an indoor velodrome and event center coupled with a restoration of the roundhouse and some new retail buildings along Central Avenue NE.
Still in the conceptual stages, the effort from the group MN Cycling Center has the strong backing of Minneapolis City Council Member Kevin Reich, who represents Northeast, as well as from biking enthusiasts, who came to a community meeting Tuesday at Columbia Golf Club to get their first glimpses of what the proposal entails.
Jason Lardy, the Blaine track's marketing manager and one of the principals of MN Cycling Center, said the wood-constructed Blaine facility is nearing the end of its useful life thanks to Minnesota's harsh winters. He added that a new $15 million-to-$20 million indoor velodrome in the central city would capitalize on growing interest in bicycling in general — not just the fixed-gear velodrome sport, but also kid-friendly BMX biking.
"We have been considering ways to replace the Blaine facility, and in particular create ways for kids to experience cycling as a larger part of their active life," he said in an interview. "So having an indoor facility would be a good thing for Minnesota, and having a central location like the Shoreham Yards is really beneficial in terms of having access for kids."
Bicycle racing has a long and somewhat hidden history in Minneapolis, stretching all the way back to 1896 when the city hosted the first-ever international six-day race, and continuing in the 1930s at an indoor velodrome set up within the old Minneapolis Auditorium.
Since 1990, the Blaine facility has been one of about two dozen velodromes in the United States. There are only two indoor facilities, in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson and in Boulder, Colo.
The Shoreham Yards also has significant historic interest. For many years it was the primary locomotive repair and maintenance site for the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie railroad, better known as the Soo Line, which connected Minneapolis grain millers with Eastern markets.
Now owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, the 20-acre southeastern corner of the vast Shoreham Yards has been the focus of a yearslong pollution remediation effort in hopes of attracting redevelopment and the re-use of the roundhouse.
In 2011, Surly Brewing Co. considered the site for its new brewery and taproom, which eventually went to southeast Minneapolis.
Lardy said Minneapolis' velodrome-racing past and the city's railroad legacy help make the Shoreham Yards a natural fit.
The group's preliminary plans call for a 200-meter oval track housed within a 300-by-400-foot structure, which when not being used for races could be used for concerts, expositions and conventions and other sporting events. Lardy also indicated that MN Cycling Center will seek city and state taxpayer subsidies should the project move forward.
The roundhouse also is part of the proposal — a shed at the northeast corner of the structure could be converted to light commercial or industrial use, perhaps for handcrafted bicycle manufacturing. The roundhouse itself could be incorporated as part of an outdoor BMX (bicycle motocross) track.
Reich said the proximity of existing bike trails also plays into the mix, adding that early meetings with the Canadian Pacific have been positive. "We've had some preliminary conversations with the railroad about the idea, and the lines of communication with them are open," he said. "We're also looking for feedback from the neighborhood. There's a been lot of interest in it from the biking community and from city officials."
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal. He has covered Twin Cities commercial real estate for about a decade.