Date: Thursday, 26 May 2016

Cycling Southland will celebrate 10 years of Invercargill's indoor velodrome at a carnival this weekend. Scott Donaldson reflects with some key people about how the velodrome come about a decade ago.

May 26, 2006 will go down in history as the day that changed the face of cycling in New Zealand forever.  It was the day the country's first indoor velodrome was opened.

Sarah Ulmer presents the NZ flag to Prime Minister Helen Clark at the Velodrome opening. Ray Harper on the right.

New Zealand now had an international indoor facility where riders could train to become world champions.

There was a massive party to mark the occasion as Prime Minister Helen Clark cut the ribbon to not only open the facility, but she also unfurled an oversized novelty cheque for $1m to the cause, along with Internal Affairs Minister Rick Barker.  

A who's who of Southland and New Zealand's most prominent figures gathered at Stadium Southland to celebrate the opening of the $11 million stadium extension, including 2004 gold medallist Sarah Ulmer.

The stadium extensions are underway, checking them out are from left, Ray Harper, Nigel Skelt, Peter Redpath and Alan Dennis.

It was a long time coming, but worth the wait.

History

The velodrome project was the final instalment in a plan to revitalise Invercargill.

Nigel Skelt checking out the new velodrome nets that separate the courts from the velodrome, allowing both to be used at the same time.

It started with the building of the original Stadium Southland in 2000, a dream for trust chairman Ray Harper. 

In the back ground cycling officials had been working away to ensure they could put the best case forward to community funders to make the velodrome happen.

In 1996 Southland cycling coach Laurie Tall was one of several people sick of bad weather cancelling cycling events on the outside track at Kew Bowl.

Sarah Ulmer the first rider to officially ride the new velodrome.

Tall and other cycling folk knew the velodrome would need to be a multipurpose venue to ensure it happened.

He knew the Southland netball community needed four further courts if they wanted to host the national championships. With that in mind he went to the national cycling championships in Wanganui armed with a measuring tape in hand to see if four netball courts could fit inside a 250m cycling track.

"They used to play netball at Centennial Hall, but the floor was rotten, they used to put the odd foot through it."

Cycling Southland development Manager Bruce Ross and Julie Gill the development officer start the job of the move from Kew Bowl into their new offices at the Velodrome.

"I found out you could get four netball courts inside a velodrome, so when I came back, I think we had our first velodrome meeting sometime in 1997 down at the council offices when Steve Canny, who was Cycling Southland chairman at the time. So he called the meeting and it was put to the meeting because they were asking for submissions [for the original stadium]."

In 1999 Graham Sycamore and Tall made a presentation to Trust officials to include an indoor velodrome in the plans.

They stated it was crucial to the future of the sport in the province.

Although the Stadium Trust were impressed by the cycling presentation, cycling were not included in the original stadium complex. A stadium setup mainly to host the championship winning Southern Sting netball team which desperately required court facilities to shift from an outdated Centennial Hall.

"Laurie and I put together a proposal, I remember saying next year at the Sydney Olympics, Sydney has an indoor stadium and we are going to need that if we want to remain competitive."

Officials told the cycling community they wouldn't be included in the original stadium but did promise their time would come.

According to Stadium Southland general manager Nigel Skelt, the need to grow the venue a few years later coincided with the time Invercargill's existing Kew Bowl track needed an upgrade.

"This was in 2003-2004, at the same time Kew Bowl, the original cycling facility, was past its used by date and did not meet the metric requirements of an international velodrome. It was also becoming in a state of disrepair," Skelt said.

"We joined up with Cycling Southland and then put a proposal to the Southland Indoor Leisure Centre Charitable Trust regarding a larger facility incorporating cycling and the result was New Zealand's first indoor cycling velodrome."

The project featured the 250-metre international velodrome along with four courts and the extension also includes administration blocks which houses various Southland's sporting organisations, storage, toilets, showers and changing rooms.

Challenges

There were several obstacles to leap to get the Stadium Southland Extension Project completed.

Obviously getting enough money to complete the $11 million project was difficult and required some big community contributions, with the Invercargill Licensing Trust playing the lead role.

But there were plenty of other hurdles.

When the original Stadium Southland was built at Surrey Park, the trust ran into problems from neighbours opposing the building gaining resource consent.  

"We had to go to court and get permission to build it because people opposed it for various reasons and particularly where it was to be sited," Harper said.

It even meant some members of the cycling fraternity visited neighbouring houses in the Kew suburb to see what their reaction would be to revamping Kew Bowl into an indoor velodrome. There were fears that plans to add the velodrome at Surrey Park would be quashed.  

But the Invercargill residents were largely supportive to the stadium extension after they saw the positive impact of the existing complex and building could therefore proceed.

When the original stadium was bursting at the seams, it was decided further netball courts were needed.  Another challenge was convincing the public it was worth spending extra money on a cycling track, as well as more courts.

The project timeline

1999 - The Southland Indoor Leisure Centre Charitable Trust gives the green light to build a $9m indoor leisure centre complex.

2000 - Cycling Southland commissioned a feasibility study and were given the support of Stadium Southland to begin work.

2003 - A joint proposal was started between Cycling Southland and Stadium Southland to develop the 250m track along with four community courts and three levels of corporate facilities.

2005 - Construction began on the extension of Stadium Southland to include the velodrome with German track designer Ralph Schuermann at the helm, while local company Calder Stewart Industries were appointed as the project design and build company. 

Who was involved?

The Stadium Southland extension project team was formed and chaired by Ray Harper who had played a significant role in the development of the original Stadium Southland building which had been opened in 2000.

This included Cycling Southland administrators, Stadium Southland management and other prominent people including funders. They met regularly over a three-year period to ensure everything ran smoothly.

The Stadium Southland Extension Project team included Nigel Skelt, Raewyn Rogers, Ray Harper, Acton Smith, Bruce Ross, Julie Crawford, Steve Canny, Lindsay Bowmar, Alan Dennis, Laurie Tall, Neil Affleck and David Main.

The entire project was completed in 57 weeks, with 150 tonnes of track timber and equipment shipped from Germany to Dunedin via ship. The six containers were then transported by road to Invercargill from Dunedin.​

Community events

Since its inception, the SIT velodrome has hosted a variety of community events.

Sports courts in the inside of the cycling track have made it more financially viable according to Harper compared to other velodromes around the world. Other sports and events share the facilities with cycling meaning it is frequently used.

In the last ten years there have been a lot of different uses of the velodrome which have provided challenges for ILT Stadium Southland general manager Nigel Skelt and his team.

"From a community perspective hosting the Spanish dancing horses in the venue was a real thrill," he said.

The horses stayed three nights within the building and there were sell-out crowds to the two shows they performed.

"Possibly the only velodrome in the world that has hosted a live animal act."

The facility has also hosted the New Zealand poultry championships featuring 1200 birds which stayed two nights, which was character building according to Skelt.

"The clean up afterwards was interesting, however the Southland community really embraced the event with a huge public turnout," Skelt said.

"The organisers were hugely complimentary of the venue and the birds also seemed to enjoy it although they didn't sleep a hell of a lot through the night."

Transforming the venue into New Zealand's largest sandpit was also challenging for Skelt.

"We hosted the New Zealand beach volleyball championships but again just a fantastic event which was really appreciated by all the international and national athletes that attended it," he said.

Was it all worth it?

Ray Harper - Former Southland indoor leisure centre charitable trust chairman

"When we put the velodrome on, there was nothing better in Australasia, we had visitors from Australia," he said.  

"That really, in my opinion, got Invercargill going again, and makes it a great place to live, people are leaving Auckland and coming south, it is moving."

"I think with our education system and facilities we are probably the equal or better of any place in the country."

Nigel Skelt - ILT Stadium Southland general manager

"Absolutely. To be involved at the ground level of building a world class international velodrome and another multipurpose venue was quite unique," he said.

"Cycling in Southland got a major boost and as a result it has produced national, international, Commonwealth and Olympic medallists in both junior and senior ranks and continues to do so."

"We have hosted many international cycling carnivals which has ignited the Southland community."

Graham Sycamore  - Cycling Southland life member

"As a cycling commissaire I was fortunate to work in Adelaide and Sydney on indoor tracks, you realise you must have that sort of standard to get good riders."

"To get it was a major coup."

"There was quite a battle went on over that, [but] 12 months after that you couldn't find anyone that didn't think it was a good idea."

Laurie Tall - Cycling Southland life member

"That complex up there now with the velodrome and stadium together, there is nothing like it in the world, it is a world class complex."

"It's going alright, if it wasn't for one or two or three down there pushing the juniors along I don't know where we would be.  They are getting plenty of people interested in it."

Caption: The driving force behind the velodrome, Ray Harper, left and German builder and designer Ralph Schuermann congratulate each other for a job well done.

 Photo and article courtesy Stuff

 

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