ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Along the overgrown riverbank where the Catawba Indians once walked, Olympic cyclists might soon be racing.
Plans are moving forward for a massive development in Rock Hill that would include homes, shops and restaurants. The centerpiece would be a $4 million velodrome, an Olympic-class stadium for cycling.
"This is a tremendously exciting project. It is really transformational," said Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols.
The 1,000-acre tract of land is the site of the former Celanese industrial plant at the edge of Rock Hill and would be renamed Riverwalk.
Along with the velodrome there would be a BMX Supercross track and a Cyclocross course.
"Along with the other venues, I think it affords us an opportunity to truly be a cycling center for the East Coast," the mayor said.
That was always the promise of the National Whitewater Center outside Charlotte where Olympic teams practice. But the Whitewater Center has struggled with issues of debt since opening in 2006.
Echols says the cycling center will be different. The city is putting up $3 million from hospitality and special tax districts to pay part of the cost of the velodrome.
"That is an extremely important part of the way we try to do business in Rock Hill, and that is to make sure we have the money to do the things we are talking about doing," said Echols.
Lake Wylie lakekeeper Ellen Goff applauds anything that will get more people down to the river, but worries that in this economy, there might not be enough done to protect against potential pollution from the development.
"It's very difficult to insist that they hire more environmental inspectors when we can't even pay our teachers and they are closing libraries," said Goff.
Echols says the developers are eco-sensitive and have given assurances pollution won't be an issue. Echols said the developers have already spent millions cleaning up potential pollution from the old Celanese plant.
Another concern is that the cycling track would only be available to professionals and the wealthy. The mayor said that will not be the case.
"We made sure, particularly if we are going to put public dollars in it, that all of these facilities are open to the public, and they will be," he said.
A walking trail along the riverbank is scheduled to open later this spring, with major construction to start sometime next year.