I've been thinking for some time about buying a small downtown Madison garage, as a combination of a personal real estate investment (presuming it's a buyer's market right now) and the desire to establish a community of bike enthusiasts that, like me, don't have a garage and could really use a place to work on bikes and hang out. There are a lot of bikes on the street in my downtown neighborhood, owned by students and other apartment dwellers, and these folks could use a place with a lift, special tools, manuals, shared expertise and storage. The scope would be worked out by the initial co-op membership, but those are pretty clear concepts. It remains to be seen whether such a co-op would succeed as a community, but I'd like to give it a shot. I know several guys both in the Madison BMW Club and Wisconsin SportBikes that live in apartments and don't really have a decent place to work on their bikes or store them in the winter. And a lot of others just like to hang out around bikes and work on them with friends. A well-stocked fridge will be essential for the co-op, of course, and it'd be good to have events (like movies, parties, workshops, etc.) to draw folks in.
I've thought a bit about the membership profile. I don't care what kind of bike folks ride, but I do feel there is a MAJOR divide between folks that ride safely and those that don't. I don't respect folks that ride motorcycles without helmets. I understand their (in my opinion, deeply misguided) desire for "personal freedom", but I don't agree with it. So, I'd want the co-op to emphasize safe riding, whether it be Beemers, Harleys, or sportbikes, as a core principle.
I've registered a domain and put up a web page just to sort of lay out the concept: http://madisonmotorcyclecoop.org
I'm currently looking at properties with a commercial real estate agent. The nice thing about the project is that it doesn't require that the co-op be "profitable" or even "break even." The core idea is a personal real estate investment. The great thing would be if the co-op can generate some rent through membership dues, but I'm more interested in it becoming an active community of bike enthusiasts. If things went really well, maybe it would add some service and retail activities, like the old Yellow Jersey Bicycle Co-op did in the Seventies. I could imagine some wrenches plying their trade on the premises. Maybe if it did really, really well, and the membership wanted to, it would eventually buy the property.
I know bike co-ops exist in other cities, and I'm hoping to get in touch with some of those folks to hear about their experiences, things that worked and didn't. Please let me know of your experiences and of similar co-ops I can contact.