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Bike-race promoter seeks Pennsylvania velodrome site

Twenty-four years ago, David Chauner seized on a breathtaking incline in Manayunk and made it a household name.

Twenty-four years ago, David Chauner seized on a breathtaking incline in Manayunk and made it a household name.

Now, he's looking for a spot in Chester County to give a similar boost to a largely forgotten pursuit that once rivaled baseball in popularity.

Chauner is the man who brought Philadelphia the annual professional bike race that includes the Manayunk Wall, and still is a promoter. His latest venture is to build an indoor velodrome - a banked track for bike races - somewhere along the Route 30 corridor in the Exton area.

The planned $15 million project still needs a location and financing, but Chauner is convinced he has a bankable idea that would create the only indoor U.S. velodrome outside of Los Angeles and Boulder, Colo.

"We believe that indoor cycling has a huge future in the United States," Chauner said. "It is fast, colorful and exciting."

Chauner and his firm, Velodrome Management Group L.L.C., of Audubon, Montgomery County, are working with the Chester County Economic Development Council, and have narrowed the search to about three locations, he said today.

His hope is to have a facility running within two years - before the 2012 Olympics in London. Cycling is an Olympic event.

As envisioned, the velodrome also would serve as a small arena that could host concerts and other athletic events, such as gymnastics and tennis tournaments, Chauner said.

VMG's research suggests that such a facility could produce $3.4 million to $8.8 million in annual revenue and bring as many as 50,000 out-of-town visitors to the area for national and international competitions.

Chauner said he was near a deal two years ago to put the velodrome in Lower Providence, Montgomery County. That deal fell through when there was a delay in financing.

He said he remained optimistic he could make this project work, despite the recessionary economy, because the demand was rising for entertainment outlets and cycling in general was growing.

The number of cyclists nationwide licensed to race has grown 50 percent to 63,280 since 2002, according USA Cycling, the national governing body for the sport. With more than 2,000 licensed racers, Pennsylvania ranks sixth in the country. There are 1,673 licensed racers in New Jersey.

Local competitors and fans now must travel to an outdoor velodrome in Trexlertown, Pa., near Allentown, to compete or watch track racing.

Chauner, a former Olympic cyclist, has a successful track record as a cycling promoter. He is one of the founding forces behind the TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship, which draws hundreds of thousands of fans to the city each June.

He is drawing on a bit of a dream to recapture an era - from the 1890s to the 1920s - when cycling was one of the nation's leading sports.

There were more than 100 velodromes across the country, drawing thousands of fans for races. In Philadelphia, there was the Point Breeze Velodrome as well as racing at Municipal Stadium.

Cycling champions such as Fred Spencer and Bobby Walthour Jr. in the 1920s rivaled the likes of Babe Ruth, boxer Gene Tunney, and golfer Bobby Jones in fame. By the 1930s, however, the Great Depression and the growth of the automobile culture all but killed the sport.

Now, somewhere out in Chester County, David Chauner would like to resurrect it.