By James Niedzinski
---- — SALEM — Through asphalt, dirt, tight turns and the elements, the Gran Prix of Gloucester has brought cyclists from around the globe to compete in a race around Stage Fort Park.
But the annual race may soon overlook a new waterfront — Salem Willows.
Typically held toward the end of September, the Gran Prix has been in Gloucester since 1999 and has grown from a one-day race of hundreds to a two-day gathering of about 1,000 cyclists — not including spectators, and the racers’ friends and family members.
Now, because of concerns about repairs to Stage Fort Park and other factors, Paul Boudreau, president of the Essex County Velo, the nonprofit group that organizes the race, is looking toward Salem as an alternative site.
“Discussions are ongoing, and we remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement (to keep the race in Gloucester),” Boudreau wrote in an email. “However, given the uncertainty that Gloucester would continue to be a feasible host city, we faced no other choice but to explore options for other potential host cities in the area.”
Boudreau recently met with the Salem Parks and Recreation Commission and has set up more dates to meet with Salem officials.
“There is an interest in the plan, definitely,” Salem Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Karen Partanen said.
She added that officials are concerned with the short time frame, and there are details about parking, restrooms and trash cleanup that have not yet been discussed.
Since the fall of 2012, Gloucester residents and officials have raised concerns about how the repairs to the park are handled, as cyclists leave a mud trail in their wake.
In cyclocross, riders compete on a course of grass, dirt and asphalt, and are required to dismount and run or jump over obstacles at points throughout the race.
Boudreau and other Essex County Velo members met with residents and the Gloucester City Council Planning and Development subcommittee, chaired by Councilor Greg Verga, in January.
At that time, Boudreau addressed concerns about cycling over the Lucy Brown Davis pathway, the dirt and rock path that leads from Stacey Boulevard into Stage Fort Park, as well as the condition in which the park was left.
Boudreau proposed smoothing over the pathway and adding stone dust.
Work done to Stage Fort Park after the race ends includes using a Bobcat rake, seeding, spreading loam and placing hay bales around the dirt and gravel path.
“It was not very impressive, the condition they left the field,” Verga said.
Verga said other minor issues raised were the amount of commentary during the race itself and the lack of accessibility to the park during the race; but said those problems could be solved with better signage and more communication.
In a report issued to city officials earlier this year, Boudreau stated the Gran Prix of Gloucester is not unique; that other events such as the Boston Marathon and the Charles Regatta also close off public spaces.
Verga said he would keep an open mind in having the race in Gloucester, as long as Stage Fort Park sees repairs in a timely fashion and race-goers respect certain areas of the park.
“The bottom line is I’m not going to bend over backwards and beg them to come,” Verga said.
Despite concerns, Boudreau cited the race’s economic benefit to Gloucester.
“Based on a Bentley University economic impact study, roughly 40 percent of participants stay in the Cape Ann region during the race weekend,” he wrote.
The report also included positive recommendations from various local inns and motels. The Gran Prix generates more than $20,000 between fees and other expenditures in the city; a portion of that is used to repair the park, according to the report.
After all the bills are paid, money also goes toward local charities such as the Gloucester Writer’s Center, although the net revenue measures in the hundreds, not thousands, of dollars, according to the minutes of the Planning and Development Committee.
As to post-race conditions, “we have identified a few ruts in the (Sam Parisi baseball field) outeld that require attention,” the January report states. “However, our measurements show that the majority of the track is as smooth as the unused portions of the field.”
Verga said he was contacted by officials in Salem to better understand the effects of the race. If the Gran Prix moves to Salem, it would be the first bike race hosted at Salem Willows, according to parks and recreation superintendent Partanen.
In Gloucester, Boudreau met with the Special Event Advisory Committee in May, and more recently met with a number of officials during a site visit of Stage Fort Park. But race organizers have not yet approached the Council’s Planning and Development subcommittee about holding the event in Gloucester.
“In the race’s 14 years, we have strived to be mindful, cooperative community partners and are dedicated to building upon the relationship with the city,” Boudreau’s email states. “However, if the Gloucester venue is not a viable location, we will be forced to seek an alternative site that meets the standards that racers have come to expect from this event.”