DETROIT — Just north of downtown here, a big, white dome sits like an inflated parachute alongside the busiest north-south interstate in Michigan.
The oddly shaped structure is unlike anything else around — an architectural curiosity whose billowy, bulbous shape is simultaneously intriguing and inviting to the occupants of the more than 150,000 vehicles that drive by it each day on Interstate 75.
And on the side of the massive white dome — less than two miles from General Motors’ world headquarters and just a few blocks from Ford Field — five giant black letters deliver a message that there’s more to the Motor City than the three automakers headquartered nearby: Lexus.
Opened in 2018, the Lexus Velodrome is a $4 million, 60-foot-high, 64,000-square-foot indoor biking, running and walking complex featuring a steeply banked, 166-meter biking track. The fitness and entertainment center was built by the Detroit Fitness Foundation and can accommodate almost 1,000 people. In its first year in operation, it drew about 35,000 visitors, including athletes who traveled from as far away as Germany and New Zealand.
For Lexus, which bought the naming rights under a four-year agreement in late 2017 at a cost of $300,000 per year, the Velodrome is a way to boost brand recognition along a busy corridor in the heart of the Motor City and support a city making a comeback.
“Lexus and its Detroit-area dealers were looking for a significant presence in the city,” said Curt McAllister, a spokesman for Lexus and Toyota in Detroit. “Previously, Lexus had been the cigar lounge sponsor at Comerica Park but that stadium is inundated with several other corporate sponsors. By sponsoring the Velodrome, Lexus not only has naming rights, but it continues its tradition of ties to the cycling community.”
Inside the Velodrome, the Japanese luxury brand’s logo appears on the banked track and in other high-profile areas. Three Lexus vehicles are displayed for patrons to inspect.
While track cycling remains a niche sport in the U.S., the Lexus Velodrome has opened the sport to area youth. It is open each Monday, Wednesday and Friday to riders under 18 to compete and enjoy the sport, with the nonprofit Detroit Fitness Foundation providing equipment and rental bikes.
In addition to the location for what is an eye-catching inflatable billboard, the Velodrome provides a venue to promote Lexus’ brand image while attracting a younger, healthier demographic, McAllister said.
“Lexus sponsors a variety of cycling road races across America as well as significant support of the Canadian cycling team. Just as important, Lexus shares the vision of the Detroit Fitness Foundation” in providing a healthy activity for local youth and community members, he said. “So far, it has worked exceedingly well, with hundreds of youngsters signing up for cycling sessions and camps. Some of these children are already making their mark on the competitive amateur circuit.”