Board seeks answers about cycling event

The UCI World Road Cycling Championships will take place in the Richmond region three years from this week, but Henrico County officials need more information before formally committing to climb aboard for the ride.

Officials from Richmond 2015 – the nonprofit organization that will host the nine-day international event – asked Henrico’s Board of Supervisors during a Sept. 11 work session to contribute a total of $1.4 million to the championships during the next three years. But supervisors and County Manager Virgil Hazelett, while pledging support for the event in general terms, bristled at the request because it lacked the specifics they were expecting.

“It is clear to me that we do not have sufficient information,” Hazelett said. “My main concern is the cost. I don’t have a comfort level yet in what’s going to happen.”

Richmond 2015 has established a budget of $21.4 million, its CEO, William Flohr, told the board. The City of Richmond has committed a $2 million contribution, he said, and presentations to officials in Hanover and Chesterfield counties followed the visit to Henrico. The organization arrived at its $1.4 million request of Henrico by following the regional funding format that was used for the Greater Richmond Convention Center, to which Richmond contributed 50 percent, Henrico 35 percent, Chesterfield 13 percent and Hanover 2 percent.

Board ‘disappointed’ in approach
But it was clear during last week’s work session that at least some county officials felt slighted by the organization’s decision to approach them now to assist with an event that may have quickly outgrown its original scope – and by the implication among some in the public that the county was not being a regional partner.

During a steady and pointed line of questioning, Brookland District Supervisor and board chairman Dick Glover expressed as much, suggesting that Richmond 2015 officials had dropped the ball by waiting more than 18 months to meet with the full Henrico board.

He implied that if the organization had involved Henrico from the beginning (in late 2010), the county would have felt more like a true partner and less like a bank account.

“I am very disappointed that this is almost two years after [the process began] that the Board of Supervisors of Henrico County has been approached,” Glover said. “I feel like you’ve left us out of the picture, and now you’re coming to us with not enough information.”

Varina District Supervisor Tyrone Nelson was similarly unimpressed.

“You came to us and gave us nothing today,” Nelson told the organization’s contingent. “I think it’s a healthy promotion for our region, but you’re asking us to spend a million and a half dollars that are not in our budget. We each have capital improvement projects [awaiting funding] in our districts, and I’ve got people in my district ready to shoot me because we don’t have a new school yet.”

Nelson also suggested that if the county were to donate the requested $1.4 million, it should receive more than just one of the 12 races scheduled for the nine-day event – particularly if Richmond’s $2 million donation is enough to earn it nine races. (Hanover and Chesterfield also would receive one race each by contributing to the event, Richmond 2015 organizers said.)

Flohr, who joined Richmond 2015 in April, conceded that the organization might have done some things differently before his arrival, in retrospect.

“It perhaps should have been a regional effort,” he said, “and we’re trying to make it into a regional effort now.”

Economic impact debated
Henrico stands to realize a $42 million economic benefit from the event, Flohr said; some 450,000 spectators are expected to attend the races. Flohr told the board that Henrico would receive an additional $832,000 in hotel and lodging taxes during the nine-day period, but Hazelett questioned his math, saying that the county typically receives about that much during the month of September, when the occupancy rate is about 60 percent.

“We can’t double that [amount] in nine days with only 40 percent vacancy available,” Hazelett said.

The race proposed for Henrico is the initial time trial for men and women, which might begin in Short Pump and travel east to its conclusion in the city. That race would be televised live on a national network, Flohr said. But though Henrico would receive commercials during the broadcast and the opportunity for other exposure, Flohr could provide no specific details. The organization must purchase TV time from a network and has not yet completed the negotiation process, he said.

Tuckahoe District Supervisor Pat O’Bannon told Flohr that the board would need to see a specific list of the benefits it would receive for a $1.4 million donation before determining how to proceed.

Hazelett expressed serious concerns about the costs associated with heavy police and security needed to protect the 1,000 cyclists – some of whom will represent nations with volatile political climates – as well as spectators and citizens.

Those costs, combined with shutting down more than 60 intersections for the race, could total nearly $500,000, Hazelett said – money that he said should be deducted from any donation Henrico makes.

To date, Richmond 2015 has financial commitments from five corporate partners totaling more than $2 million, but Flohr declined to name those companies. He promised Hazelett and the board that he would have specific details and answers to their questions by the first week of October, however.

The UCI event, which began in 1927 and has been held annually since (except for a seven-year period during World War II), will be held in The Netherlands this year, Italy next year and Spain in 2014. The United States has hosted it only once, in Colorado Springs in 1986.
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