Community bike shop turned out, tuned up

When a local nonprofit was recently told they would need to vacate the premises, tempers flared and harsh words were spoken. It looked to be a head-on collision, but modern diplomacy might have simmered things down – a little.
Off the Chain Bicycle Collective, a noto for profit bike shop offers cyclists a place to work on their bikes, use shop tools and learn whatever they need to for mechanics and safe riding, free of charge. The shop is located on the shores of Goose Lake, just off UAA Drive next to the Paddleboat Café.
For the past two and a half years the Collective has been residing in the small 12-foot by 20-foot room filled with bike parts and volunteers. The building where they reside is the property of the Anchorage Northeast Park District.
“The city is remodeling the building, so they called a meeting with us and said initially that we had to be out by Feb. 28 – giving us a week and a half or so notice,” Collective volunteer coordinator Ben Hussey said. “And we said, ‘Well that’s ridiculous.’ We can’t just shut down and move all of our stuff out in a week and a half.”
After a meeting with the Park District, however, the move out date was changed. The Collective was given an additional two weeks to vacate the premises – March 13.
The Parks District, under contract, allows the Bike Collective to operate year round, rent–free.
“They’ve let us use that building essentially because it would be much more difficult to throw us out,” said Hussey.
The building is comprised of three sections: the Bike Collective, Paddleboat Café and a large warehouse that according to Hussey, the city uses for storage. Hussey said it was great that the Parks District was going to renovate, but the issue was the short notice to get out, the city’s indifference to where they will go while renovations are underway, and that the renovations are slated to happen in the spring, the busiest time of year for the Collective.
NE Park District manager Teri Desy-Peters said the plans for renovating the building have been in the works for some time.
“Maintenance has been talking about this for a long time,” Peters said. “They were given enough time to have their stuff out. And we have to ensure a safe environment for the contractors. When the renovations are done they can go back in.”
Currently, the remodel is scheduled to be completed by May 31.
Whether the Bike Collective will really be returning to the building in June, however, is not entirely clear.
Peters said she was in the process of re-writing the Memorandum of Understanding – a user agreement with the Collective. The former MOU allowed for the Collective to run their shop rent-free, and in return they would hold free community clinics and workshops.
Peters said there are several other places in town that have an MOU with the Park District. The agreement varies depending on the organization.
“It depends on the group, and the location, and the needs and wants,” Peters said, who admitted she did not know how much the community wanted or needed the bike shop, nor any numbers regarding usage or attendance.
“I do know that – right now they’re providing service to the kids in the Mt. View area and are doing some classes and workshops with some low income kids as far as bicycle maintenance,” Peters said. “So we see that there is a need for that and we see the value of what they’re doing.”
The renovations slated to begin in mid-March, according to Peters, will include redesigning the restrooms and installing electrical outlets to the shop.
“That’s all they’re doing to our shop, really (and emergency exit lights) which is great,” Bike Collective volunteer Brian Lindamood said. “Because right now we’ve just got electrical cords running everywhere.”
Lindamood was nominated by the Collective last December to be the city / shop liaison, prior to the city’s temporary relocation request.
“We need to figure out if we’ll be making it a temporary or permanent move, but the assumption is that we will be moving back in,” Lindamood said. “They’ve acquiesced to put a Connex shipping container in the parking lot for us to work out of.”
“It’s hard to tell if this is well-meaning or well-planned, or if there’s an agenda behind it,” he said.
Peters said she doesn’t know about letting the Connex container reside in the parking lot, but that they haven’t yet come up with an alternative.
“I want to you to know, we really appreciate what the Bike Club does,” Peters said. It’s obvious they’re a part of the community.
The Bike Collective put up a notice on Craigslist at the end of February, seeking a new temporary or permanent location for their nonprofit shop.