GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 30, 2013

Stage Fort talks spur racing changes

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — While there remain questions as to where Gloucester’s cyclocross will be held, officials from the sponsoring Essex County Velo and city officials can agree that the cyclocross course will be changing.

A Saturday site visit between the Planning and Development Subcommittee of Gloucester’s City Council and members of Essex County Velo, which helps organize the Gran Prix of Gloucester, also prompted about 75 riders and others who back the race to show their support, according to Paul Boudreau, president of Essex County Velo and the primary race organizer.

And some areas — including Half Moon Beach and Betty Smith Garden on Stacey Boulevard — were agreed to be stricken from the race course, city officials said. Coluncilor Bob Whynott also expressed specila concern abot the use of the Lucy B. Davis Patrhway, but race organizers did not agree to any changes in that regard.

Boudreau did not say how losing a specific area of the course, such as Half Moon Beach, will affect the race, or if he approached the Conservation Commission about using the beach this year.

”As with any area in the park, we’ll need to assess how the non-availability of a course feature affects our ability to produce a world class race course,” he wrote in an email to the Times.

The race course, however, cannot be outlined until a venue is decided upon, he added. With questions surrounding the use of Stage Fort, and with city approvals still pending, Boudreau has also approached the city of Salem about perhaps bolding the race at Salem Willlows Park. Boudreau said Monday he is also considering a third site, which he did not identify, also in Essex County.

The race must be OK’d by City Council regardless of the Planning and Development subcommittee, which is expected to make its recommendation next week.

But one of the Gloucester officials present for Saturday’s tour, City Councilor Joe Ciolino, said he plans to ask for a $10,000 bond as an insurance measure to ensure Stage Fort Park gets repaired in a timely fashion. And that raised concerns Monday with Boudreau.

”I have serious questions as to how a bond would be managed,” Boudreau wrote. “I would like to have procedures clearly determined and explained before the possible implementation of a bond.”

Boudreau said race organizers work each year with Mark Cole, the operations manager of public services for Gloucester’s Department of Public Works, to agree what repairs are satisfactory.

”A few weeks ago, we reviewed the park with (Cole) and he was satisfied with the condition of the park with the exception of the hillside between the Lucy B. Davis pathway and the playground,” Boudreau wrote.

Others have also raised concerns on how long those repairs take.

But City Councilor Greg Verga, who heads the Planning and Development Subcommittee, said that, while the damage done last year was in part due to heavy rainfall, the city and race organizers are moving in the right direction.

”It was an excellent opportunity for both sides,” he said Monday of Saturday’s get-together. “We seem to be on the same page about making the corrections that are necessary.”

The two-day race, which draws about 900 cyclists plus hundreds of friends and other racing fans, is held the last weekend of September and has been in Gloucester since 1999.

Verga said that, while not the specific purpose of the site visit, he, too, has concerns about the timetable of the repairs.

Yet Verga added Boudreau has been proactive about other issues, such as the parking on surrounding streets, the issues are likely to come before the subcommittee at their Aug. 7 meeting. In addition, Verga said the race organizers have chosen a new landscaping company to do the repairs.

”The field looks good now,” he said, adding it has almost been one year since the race ran through the park.

Boudreau has previously pointed out the economic benefits to the city and local businesses, citing a study by Bentley University, which states roughly 40 percent of participants stay in the Cape Ann region during the race weekend.

A report earlier this year also included recommendations from local businesses to keep the race in Gloucester; organizers spend more than $20,000 between fees to the city, food and lodging; in addition to the amount of money spectators spend.

Ciolino added he will ask for a cap of 1,000 cyclists as well as a daily $10 fee for people who park in Stage Fort, while Boudreau stated the amount of cyclists would have little to no difference to the impact on Stage Fort Park.

”If they can overcome (parking, competitor and bond factors) I’ll support it,” he said.

Despite the support on Saturday, Boudreau reiterated that two other venues, including Salem, are still being considered.

”To do our due diligence, we are proceeding as though Gloucester is not our venue and will soon close on our backup venue,” he wrote. “However, I’m hopeful that 14 years of cyclocross tradition can continue.”

He added race organizers hope to stay in Gloucester.

”We have strong letters of support from the (Cape Ann) Chamber of Commerce as well as the Gloucester Open Space and Recreation Committee,” he added.

Whynott said the repairs are to preserve the park.

“The city just started fixing that this year,” he said of the park’s Lucy B. Davis Pathway. “There has to be an awful lot of guarantees before we continue this thing,” he said.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.