After a five-year delay, a Vassar businessman says he’s back on a mission to bring a $4 million indoor bike park to the city.
Vulcan City Bike Park is the name of the project Ronald Parker said he envisions.
It calls for a three-mile indoor biking trail that would be constructed at a part of Vassar Memorial Park (the former Vassar Fairgrounds) that isn’t used for other events, such as baseball games.
“We’re just in beginning stages,” said Parker, 50. “Just knowing what it’s going to cost to build it, knowing what materials it’s going to take to build it — we’ve got that part of the business plan taken care of.”
Parker first presented his idea to Vassar City Council five years ago.
His idea was to use a vacant building located at 555 E. Huron Ave.
Council forwarded the idea to the Vassar Parks and Recreation Commission for review.
But two events halted plans. Before he could continue the project, the roof of the building caved. (It has since been fixed and is now home to U.S. Engine Production).
Further complicating matters, Parker had surgery in 2014 on four bulging disks in his neck and it took time to recover.
Still, Parker says the things that helped him originally formulate his plan remain.
In warmer weather, for example, the Vassar resident claims he can ride up to 60 miles a day, three times a week. Bike riding in the winter is not Parker’s favorite thing to do — and he believes he isn’t alone.
Further, Parker says recreational opportunities are limited in the Vassar area.
Vulcan City Bike Park could build on Vassar’s current momentum of economic growth (in 2016, seven new businesses have opened in a one-block stretch of the downtown area).
“Vassar’s been dying off slowly,” Parker added. “All the big businesses are gone so we need to create our own big business.”
Due to the scope of the park, however, Parker said he needs the help of area officials, residents, and business owners.
Parker’s current campaign began in early summer this year, when he reintroduced the project to Vassar City Manager Brian Chapman.
“My initial thoughts were there were some great ideas, but big impact projects need a lot more planning and a lot of work to do,” said Chapman. “A lot of stuff needs to be changed.”
Chapman said that “stuff,” among other things, involves identifying recreational grants to supplement project costs, though he pointed out there are limited opportunities for a private individual to land such awards.
Chapman said a potential source of grant funding could be the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Public Information Officer at MEDC Kathy Achtenberg said the corporation offers Public Spaces Community Places, a crowdfunding program offered through Patronicity (an online reward-based platform based in Detroit). In a nutshell, crowdfunding is raising money for a project from a large number of people and by gathering enough funding the MEDC program will match monies raised up to a cap of $50,000.
“It wouldn’t be enough — he would have to find other funding besides that particular program,” Achtenberg said.
Other MEDC programs are used to revitalize vacant property for mixed-used purposes.
Achtenberg said the corporation has never used them for a recreational park.
Nate Scramlin, senior community assistant specialist at MEDC, said the project sounds more like a private enterprise and there are questions concerning how the rest of the money will be raised.
“Say you raise $24,000 locally, where’s the rest of the money coming from to actually build this thing?” said Scramlin.
The community stepped up to help Parker with the project the first time it was introduced.
Parker said he was able to raise more than $11,000 through the help of local businesses to determine the cost of the project.
Armed with those figures — and feeling better physically — Parker is back to pursuing his idea.
He recently became a member of the Vassar Chamber of Commerce and has been working with the Tuscola Economic Development Corp.
Glen Roth, office manager, Tuscola County EDC, said he was unable to comment because Parker is now a customer.
“I’m working with (Tuscola Economic Development Corp.) to get the land developed,” Parker said. “All I can do now is raise money from the people. That’s where I stand.”
The idea, Parker said, is that funding the trail would come through investments from business owners and residents. Parker’s also looking for local investors.
Parker said the trail would be self-sustaining after its third year of operation and in the fifth year, investors would realize a return on investment.
Parker has a long way to go, however, as the only shareholder currently is CJ’S Auto Cleaning, 137 S. Water St., Vassar, Parker’s own business.
“I’ve went as far as I can go by myself, now I have to get everybody else involved,” said Parker.
Littleton, Colorado-based General Steel Corp. — the pre-engineering company that created the concept art for the park — worked with Parker to arrive at the projected cost of $4 million.
Ronald Lamping, project coordinator of General Steel, told The Advertiser Parker’s idea for the trail is one of a kind because of its unique design.
“As far as we’re concerned, the really unique part of it was these kind of hamster tunnel-type bike trails that he envisioned,” said Lamping. “That’s what made it one-of-a-kind and I recall that our constructionist had a hard time getting his head around that. He didn’t have anything to fall back on from previous projects to get a gauge on costs for that.”
Parker told The Advertiser he plans to work at the trail as an employee or manager.
If the idea doesn’t come to fruition in Vassar, the dream won’t end.
Larger cities like Chicago or Grand Rapids are his next options, though he is quick to point out the project is meant to lift up Vassar.
“I do know that God has put it on my heart to bring this to Vassar. This was a God-given thing to me because I’m not an architect but I have a great architect plan. It has to be a Godly-given thing. I’m working on what God told me to do.”
Debanina Seaton is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org