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In its brief five years of existence, the Lansing Bike Co-op has had its fair share of difficulties. It had no home at all for its first six months, then moved into a building with no heating or plumbing.
Gradually, the co-op fixed up its small, one-story headquarters on the northwest corner of Leslie and Kalamazoo streets, established a foothold in Lansing’s east side and built its membership to about 350-400 annual members, according to President Aaron Fields.
Now the co-op is facing its biggest challenge to date: the building, owned by Ingham County Land Bank, is up for sale.
The Land Bank’s decision to sell, made official this June, left the co-op with three options: try to raise money and buy the building, find a different location, or shut down.
Fields said the board decided on the first option.
“We’re in the process of submitting an offer right now,” he said.
The next step is to raise the asking price of $40,000 by the beginning of 2020. The co-op plans to launch an online fundraiser in a matter of weeks.
“We wrote an offer to purchase the building at asking price, with the contingency that we would be given six months to raise the money,” said Fields. “We don’t want to go to a bank for a number of reasons, so we think that it’s going to be a better option to fundraise.”
Raising almost $7,000 a month is a tall order, but co-op board members have reason to be hopeful.
“There are a lot of people who have seen us in the community and we’ve been supportive of a lot of things that have been important to the community,” said board member Colleen Synk. “The hope is that we’ve been here for a while and a lot of people see the added value in having the co-op there.”
The all-volunteer co-op holds five-week classes that range from basic bicycle maintenance and repair to special topics such as bike commuting, bike touring and wheelbuilding. The co-op asks for a $40 donation to take a class, but people who can’t afford it can get a scholarship, thanks to a mini-grant from the League of Michigan Bicyclists.
Classes emphasize hands-on experience, with the goal of “bicycle independence” for every learner. The small shop is equipped with workstands and shop bicycles to practice on.
The co-op is also a community hub for bicycle nuts and casual riders to hang out and learn from each other.
“It’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck situation, but I’m optimistic,” Fields agreed. “I think we’re an organization that is valued by the community, and once people are made aware of the situation, I’m hoping they’ll be generous.”
Another cause for optimism, Fields said, is the Land Bank’s seemingly genuine interest in keeping the co-op in its current building, despite the fact that there are two additional offers currently on the table to buy the property.
Next week, the Land Bank’s board meets to review the three offers on the table. The Land Bank wants to keep the bike co-op where it is, according to Chairman Erik Schertzing, but only if the economics line up.
“The Land Bank has invested a lot of money to make it usable, and that property has a value, so we need to more or less get some of our value out of these properties,” Schertzing said.
But that doesn’t mean the Co-op will inevitably end up out in the cold.
“For the three offers that have come in, I think that based on conversations with the potential buyers and the board, and talking to community members in the city of Lansing, the bike co-op’s offer is likely to be one the Land Bank board members would look at favorably,” Schertzing said.
Fields said it’s “put up or shut up time” for the Co-Op.
“The reality is we’re not going to find another building in this neighborhood should we lose this spot,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen, and it’s become kind of a make or break moment for us. Which is a little bit scary, but if everything works out and we end up getting it, that means some pretty good, long-term stability for the organization.”