Located on dedicated City parklands, now-vacant Building 191, once planned for demolition, straddles a major spur on the San Diego bike path system. The 20-by-80 foot structure was the 191st building constructed at the former Naval Training Center.
The possibility of repurposing Building 191 was the brainchild of environmental attorney Richard Opper, current board member and former chairman of the NTC Foundation, and prominent San Diego graphic designer, sculptor and cycling enthusiast Ron Miriello. The pair were out on a ride when Miriello commented that he wished he had somewhere to exhibit 20 classic Italian bicycle frames. Opper replied he knew of an empty Liberty Station building, and the drive to create a regional cycling hub was on.
Noting there are “plenty of hurdles to be cleared,” Opper said the City was skeptical at first that “we could actually do this.” But he noted Building 191 is perfectly situated to become part of a bicycling network. “It’s in a protected safety zone near an airport,” Opper said pointing out the building has lied dormant since the ’90s.
“If you go in the building now, much of it looks like a big classroom or meeting room,” Opper said adding, “It could be a place for bikes to be fixed, for bike organizations to meet and talk about safety or whatever.”
Opper said the next logical step in converting Building 191 will be to “negotiate a lease with the city.” He estimated $1.8 million would need to be raised for the building’s conversion.
“If things went really well we could probably move into that building in less than two years,” said Opper adding, “We have to get serious to find funding for the project.”
Nicole Burgess, District 2 representative for City of San Diego’s Bicycle Advisory Board, is excited about converting Building 191.
“Liberty Station is a central area that can support people who want to ride more often,” Burgess said. “It also offers a great space to teach others how to ride in a safe and comfortable area and to continue exploring Downtown along the waterfront.”
Added Burgess, “Better advocacy and bike instruction can increase in this type of facility that offers outdoor space and a great location for people to visit and become more involved.”
Noting a cycling hub should be able to be accessed “without a car,” Burgess added, “It will be imperative that all agencies collaborate to make safe and comfortable connections for supporting multi-modal access to Liberty Station; specifically via Pacific Highway. … The City can reconfigure lane widths and road configurations … This is the backbone of our City which will connect to Uptown SANDAG projects, the existing trolley and the new Midcoast Trolley, the Coaster, The Downtown Mobility Plan, etc. It is a gap in our network and until it is addressed and prioritized, our City will have a difficult time meeting Climate Action Plan and Vision Zero goals.”
Preliminary redesign work on Building 191 has been performed by local architect Chris Bitter of OBR Architecture, who has worked on several other Liberty Station projects.
Bittner has been working with what amounts to a blank slate with Building 191.
“There is no real record of what it was used for, my guess is offices,” Bittner said adding gaining access to the abandoned building has proved problematic.
“We’ve been working with City Park and Recreation to get us access, and are probably a couple of weeks away,” Bittner said of the abandoned building, which is laid out as a long, thin rectangle. “They’re (governmentI) making us get an entry permit.”
“It’s a very simple building with a pitched roof and nothing inside that is historically significant,” Bittner said. “There is a shell that we can improve.”