Recently, the nine-member council voted for a resolution authorizing execution of a concession agreement with San Diego County Bicycle Coalition for the use of City-owned Building 191 at NTC Park.
Cyclists intend to convert the long-vacant building with private funding, transforming it into a regional bicycling hub. Astride dedicated City parklands, 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 NTC.
“It's been quite a long ride to get here, delighted to hear the news and the council's support,” enthused Andy Hanshaw, SDBC’s executive director, citing coalition board member and environmental attorney Richard Opper for his work on the long-term project.
“He deserves the bulk of the credit for his diligence and vision to see it through,” said Hanshaw. “We're excited to get rolling on the campaign phase. This will also be challenging, but worth it for a one-of-a-kind bike center for all San Diego cyclists to enjoy for generations to come.”
Pointing out NTC Park “was created out of a federal grant of land” when it was turned over to the City when Liberty Station was created, Opper noted, “The City retained the right to have some say over how it would be used. Now that the City’s agreed to let us make a bike center out of it, we need approval from the federal government for the concession agreement. It’s essentially a business deal.”
Added Opper, “But we’re (SDBC) not a business. We’re not trying to make money. We just want to use the resource as a nonprofit. It resembles the same kind of agreement the City has with Balboa Park, where nonprofits and museums lease from the City for a nominal amount.”
Opper noted SDBC’s objective now will be to fundraise to take their Christmas “present” of Building 191 and turn it into a public gift.
“We’ll be responsible for fixing the building up, taking care of it, and putting programs into it to benefit the whole city,” he said. “
Hanshaw said the benefits of acquisition and redevelopment of Building 191 will extend beyond the bicycling community.
“I refer to it as a cultural ‘hub’ for anyone who enjoys bicycling and it will be a gathering place for not only bike coalition operations and events, but also for the community-at-large to learn, celebrate and enjoy all things bicycling throughout the region,” he said. “The setting lends itself to scenic and quick access to downtown, the Bayshore Bikeway, and Mission Bay, and we will be able to offer maps and other rides/route resources from the site.”
Added Hanshaw, “Additional program components of the center are to be determined, but include the possibility of events (both at the center and surrounding grounds), displays paying tribute to the history and people who have inspired the bicycling boom here, and education/safety classes taught by the bike coalition. Lots of work ahead of us but excited to get this project started.”
The possibility of repurposing Building 191 has been spearheaded by both Opper, current board member and former chairman of the NTC Foundation, along with prominent San Diego graphic designer, sculptor, and cycling enthusiast Ron Miriello.
Of how the bike center was conceived, Opper said he and Miriello 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.
Regarding rehabilitating Building 191, Opper said it shouldn’t be too difficult.
“It’s a single story,” he noted. “It’s really a big old shed originally used by the military as an indoor pistol range. Everything costs money, and everything (construction) done by the City is done with prevailing wages, so yes, it’s going to be expensive. The task we have to is raise the money and not stretch it (fundraising) out. Our plans are to be completed with this in two to three years at the outside.”
Opper previously estimated $1.8 million would need to be raised for Building 191’s conversion as a bicycle center.