Growing a Bicycle Movement in Missoula, Montana
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Free Cycles Missoula 'Cycles of Change' Campaign Pedals On
Since 1996, Free Cycles Missoula has provided bikes, parts and help for a healthy community. In late 2015, the shops and land Free Cycles has rented for eleven years were put up for sale, as part of a larger two-acre parcel near the city core. Free Cycles asked for a chance to become the new owner. A buy-sell agreement was signed, giving the organization six months to acquire enough funds to obtain the entire property.
A grassroots campaign, Cycles of Change, took root in order to grow bicycling, sustainable transportation and community involvement. While other potential buyers planned to raze the buildings, Free Cycles would retain the structures and continue to develop a non-profit community center focused on shared humanity and environmental stewardship.
Free Cycles held benefit concerts, raffles and sponsored distance rides, and the community rallied behind the non-profit organization in a big way. Literally thousands of people contributed time, money, and skills.
Just before the July 1st funding deadline, Free Cycles reached $385,000, sufficient to enable a down payment on the 1.1 million dollar property. Current tenant rental incomes more than equal the projected mortgage payments and a sustained fundraising effort could pay down the note. The buy-sell agreement allowed ten extra days to finalize the transaction.
During this time, an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the property was released. The EA had been commissioned by Free Cycles and the City of Missoula back in January and was paid for by the EPA Brownfields program. The report showed that a small, unused section of the property had some environmental contamination, the result of Missoula Gas Plant operations (now NorthWestern Energy) from 1909 to 1957. A gas was made by burning coal, with residue disposed of in a deep trench. Incidentally, this coal gas was used to power the street lights of Missoula.
The EA caused enough of an uncertainty that the guarantor (a required condition of the bank loan) withdrew their offer to co-sign the loan. Further, $80,000 of pledged down payment donations were withdrawn from the project. Subsequently, the Free Cycles team ramped up its efforts even more, meeting with expert environmental attorneys, scientists and health officials. The goal was to understand the mitigations necessary to address the contamination and any potential liabilities.
Just two days before the deadline to close, a well-respected environmental attorney issued a statement... "remediation of the site would be relatively straightforward and liability for the remediation is the responsibility of NorthWestern Energy". While this information was welcome news, the guarantor and pledged donations had already been committed to other non-profit organizations.
A last-minute meeting occurred and a solution emerged. Free Cycles would leverage $200,000 to 'Cool Corner', a new company formed by a local business person specifically to gain short term ownership of the property. Cool Corner's priority is to transfer ownership to Free Cycles. Free Cycles now needs to replace the lost $80,000 in donations and find a new guarantor as soon as possible. With the continued support and help of community, Free Cycles Missoula hopes to succeed.
Free Cycles Missoula formed in 1996 to reduce air pollution by re-purposing unused bicycles. Over time, three core programs have emerged: Open Shop, Build A Bike, and BikeWell Education. Our services are available to anyone in the community: people of all ages, identities, ethnicities, abilities, and income levels.
Open Shop has brought 200,000 people through our doors to fix and build bicycles. 18,000 free bikes have been earned, built, and ridden away by people seeking a pedaling lifestyle. BikeWell classes have provided 5,000 participants with safety and maintenance skills.
Gaining the entire 28,000 sq. ft. building (we currently rent one third of the space) will allow for both a strengthening of core programs and an expansion to three additional programs: a fabrication center transforming scrap bikes into adaptive mobility, a bicycle lending library, and a Transportation Learning Center.
Let's celebrate 20 years of people power, honor the passion of collective community spirit, heighten awareness, and unite for a cause in which we truly believe!
Your contribution will help us spread our wings
We learn how to build the world
While we learn how to build a bicycle
Free Cycles Provides:
- A free bicycle for every child
- A free bicycle for every adult willing to volunteer and learn
- Freedom of movement for all people through adaptive bikes
- Recycling of broken bikes into workable forms of transportation and art
- Training and empowering of citizens to enact life-saving road designs
See www.freecycles.org for more information about our work and to read about our vision. Please send this to your networks and be involved with this campaign. Thanks and all support is greatly appreciated!