Judge Doyle Square rendering

Madison is moving to choose an operator for a $1 million bicycle center that will be part of the $170 million Judge Doyle Square mixed-use project to be built on part of blocks that now hold the Madison Municipal Building and Government East parking garage.

After initially getting no proposals, Madison may soon secure an operator for a $1 million bike center in the $170 million Judge Doyle Square development south of Capitol Square.

Mayor Paul Soglin and City Council members are proposing to accept a staff recommendation to choose Freewheel Community Bike Shop, which would pay $1 annually for three years to lease 2,819 square feet of space in the massive Judge Doyle Square mixed-use project, which will rise on blocks holding the Madison Municipal Building and Government East parking garage.

Freewheel was founded as a nonprofit in 2003 by a group of local cyclists, and in 2010 it also incorporated Bike Right, a for-profit bicycle retail business.

The enterprise, which already has a facility at 1804 S. Park St., was originally intended as a space for the community to share tools, skills and knowledge while maintaining their own transportation, reducing waste and promoting cycling. In the past two years, it has annually donated over 1,000 bikes, taught skills to 700 people, and diverted 30 tons of waste from the landfill.

The for-profit retail business, which helps pay living wages and fund charitable and educational programs, averages $120,000 in annual sales.

Under a tentative term sheet, the Madison Bicycle Center at Judge Doyle Square would provide:

  • Paid indoor, secure parking for 150 bicycles.
  • 24/7 access for members via pass cards.
  • Two changing areas, two showers and lockers.
  • Staffed presence in peak seasons and limited hours in the winter.
  • On-site bike mechanics.
  • A vending machine that sells basic biking supplies with a self-service bicycle station.
  • A bike wash station.
  • A retail bike shop.
  • Restrooms available to members 24 hours a day.
  • Bike information and classes.

Many offerings will be for the general public, including retail sales, classes, the bike washing station, vending machine and self-service bike station. The bike center may also offer bicycle sharing, and social functions for members.

“Our aim is to promote cycling as a core piece of Madison tourism and also a core piece of Madison’s transportation infrastructure,” said executive director Elijah McCloskey, who’s also general manager, sales associate and instructor at Freewheel. “It’s better for the economy and the environment.”

The cost of memberships has not been determined, but in its preliminary proposal, Freewheel suggested different levels of memberships with need-based scholarships and family discounts.

Under the term sheet, the city would build out space with basic improvements and Freewheel would provide furnishings, fixtures and other finishes.

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“I see it as being a tremendous asset,” said David Trowbridge, city principal transportation planner. “It’s sort of a premium facility for the commuting community. You grow the culture even more.”

Still, it’s been a struggle to find an operator.

In late 2016, the city issued a request for proposals from operators, but no responses were received by the deadline.

Later, the city began discussions with the local cycling community to identify interest, and ultimately received two proposals, one from Freewheel and the other from Roger Charly, owner of Budget Bicycle, Row Bicycles and Motorless Motion.

The two proposals offered different strengths, a Planning Division staff memo says.

Freewheel appears to have potential to provide a bigger communitywide benefit through its free bike maintenance classes, scholarships to low-income residents and donated repaired bikes for the needy, it says. But Charly has demonstrated ability to operate and sustain a business, and presented less risk.

“Roger would do just fine,” Trowbridge said. “(But) I think there’s a desire to give someone a chance to grow their business, especially one with a strong social equity mission.”

Ultimately, staff felt the $1 annual lease for three years would let Freewheel focus on business development while allowing the city to non-renew after a relatively short period of time if Freewheel can’t follow through with its proposal, the memo says.

The staff recommendation to select Freewheel and begin final contract negotiations will be considered by city committees with a decision by the council expected in early November.

The city has already chosen Beitler Real Estate Services of Chicago to develop the Judge Doyle Square project, which will bring a 250-room hotel for Monona Terrace, retail and commercial space, 354 apartments and more than 1,000 parking spots to the two blocks.

Construction on the Municipal Building block is slated to begin this month, with the opening of the bike center as soon as the spring of 2019. The entire redevelopment should be done by mid-summer 2021.

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