Bicycle enthusiasts hope to raise $2.6 million to renovate a vacant building at Liberty Station as a bicycling center that will include a bicycle museum, repair shop and meeting areas.
The city gave Building 191 in the former U.S. Navy training camp on Point Loma to the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition in 2020.
“We were so fortunate that the city had this building that it wasn’t using. They were going to demolish it,” said Richard Opper, who is leading the drive to build the bike center with Ron Miriello, a designer and sculptor. “It’s just a phenomenal opportunity.”
A former environmental lawyer, Opper is a former chairman of the NTC Foundation, which operates Liberty Station and a board member of the Bicycle Coalition.
So far, the renovation work on Building 191 has consisted mostly of removing asbestos in the old building and taking the structure down to its shell.
“We’re about to do a little sprucing up inside just to use it as a meeting area for people to see the potential of the project,” Miriello said.
The building “is basically sound,” Opper said. “It’s just old and needs a lot of work.”
The 60,000-square-foot building is long and narrow, “something like 20 feet wide,” Opper said. “It’s really a shed. It’s got an old shingle roof that unfortunately needs repair in several places.”
Opper sees construction of the bike center as part of drive to get more people on bikes.
Making SD a Cycling City
“San Diego ought to be the best city in the world for bicycling. The only issues we’ve ever had is the hills and canyons that make it challenging,” Opper said.
The emergence of electric bikes has pretty much eliminated those issues, Opper said.
“I think we’re on the verge of a big sea change that would have an enormous impact on our community,” Opper said.
The COVID 19 pandemic also has led to a surge of interest in bicycling, Miriello said.
“With that and the advent of the e-bike (electric bike), people have rediscovered cycling in a major way,” Miriello said. “The bicycle has moved from a hobbyist’s weekend racing tool to something we can really use as a mode of transportation.”
Opper said the center could help raise San Diego’s profile as a destination for bicycling tourism.
“There are people who travel around the world to take bicycle vacations,” Opper said.
Details on what the Liberty Station bike center would look like are still being finalized, but Opper and Miriello said it would include office space for the coalition and other nonprofits, a large multipurpose room to be used for lectures and film festivals, a place to train youths how to repair bikes both for themselves and as a profession, and a wide wrap-around deck.
“We’d like it to be a stop for bicycle adventurers to talk about their adventures,” Opper said. “We’d also like a place where people can walk in and get information.”
Miriello intends to put a European steel bike collection that he has on display in the center, along with historical links to San Diego’s bicycling past.
“We have a history with the bicycle that is quite spectacular,” Miriello said. “We have a lot of story here, but it’s never been held together in one place.”
Among more recent bicycling events noted by Miriello, the world bicycle speed record is held by a San Diego County resident, Denise Mueller Korenek of Valley Center.
A formal public fundraising campaign for the renovation of Building 191 hasn’t started yet.
“It’s a tough time to raise money. Certainly during COVID it was practically impossible,” Opper said.
Opper and Miriello said they need to get seed money from a philanthropist or two or a company before starting a concerted fundraising campaign.
“We need a significant backer who’s willing to step up to the plate and work with us,” Opper said. “This isn’t something we’re expert at. We’re new to this.”
Still, Opper said contributions can be made through the bicycle coalition website in advance of the formal campaign.
Naming Rights Up for Grabs
Building 191 is the perfect location for a bike center because two bike paths pass right by the building, Miriello said.
“It is a linkage to so many areas of the city,” Miriello said.
For now, Miriello said the building will be called the San Diego Community Bike Center but naming rights will be up for grabs as part of the fundraising effort.
“It will be the nexus point for starting rides. It will be a place to take your family. It will house the San Diego Bike Coalition,” Miriello said.
San Diego County Bicycle Coalition
Headquarters: East Village
Executive Director: Andy Hanshaw
Business: Nonprofit cycling organization
Notable: The organization has 11,000 members
Contact: 619-786-5880; firstname.lastname@example.org