Bublr Bikes joins redevelopment plans for Shops of Grand Avenue

Bublr Bikes, a Milwaukee-based bike-sharing nonprofit, has become the first permanent tenant to join in the redevelopment plans of the Shops of Grand Avenue.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett recognized the company’s contribution to the downtown area at a grand opening of its bike maintenance facility on April 14. On the same day, the company gave out free rides for Milwaukee Day, so named because the numerical date matches the 414 area code.

“Bublr is helping kick off the revitalization of the Grand Avenue,” Barrett said. “At the same time, the new Milwaukee Bucks arena is under construction nearby and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is planning to move into the former Grand Theatre across the street. All these developments will help bring new life to the area.”

Bublr Bikes’ system is a public-private partnership with the city. Users can buy $15 monthly passes for unlimited 1-hour rides, or get a pay-as-you-go pass.

The company is leasing 6,275 square feet, which will hold offices, space for mechanics and a customer service area. It was using donated space before this, but moving forward, “this is going to be our permanent home for everything,” according to executive director Sally Sheperdson.

The Shops of Grand Avenue was originally built as a three-block retail center in the 1980’s. It takes its name from Grand Avenue, the 19th century name for the busy merchant thoroughfare now called Wisconsin Avenue.

After years of struggles for the shopping center, the real estate buyer The Aggero Group and developer Hempel Cos. acquired the space in 2015 with plans to redevelop the plaza with space for retail, entertainment, offices and more. Other incoming tenants are to be announced this year.

Since summer of 2014, when Bublr Bikes got its start, 57 of its bike stations have popped up in the City of Milwaukee and in Wauwatosa, and more are planned for the next few years.

Sheperdson says the nonprofit will be adding to existing stations in Wauwatosa, “probably doubling” the bike space there. New stations will be coming online by the end of the summer in West Allis and Shorewood, she told WisBusiness.com.

“Those we know for sure,” she said.

Since funding for the nonprofit doesn’t come from one single entity, Sheperdson says it’s tough to give an exact number of how many more will be built, but the current goal is to reach 80 stations. Some in Milwaukee are sponsored by large companies such as U.S. Bank and Northwestern Mutual.

The company also got a grant from the City of Milwaukee Housing Authority “to ensure we have access to bike-shares throughout Milwaukee, not just downtown or for tourists,” Sheperdson said.

A new station will be built outside the Grand Avenue entrance at 275 W. Wisconsin Ave. this year. A smaller station will go inside the building, right outside the new offices.

“Our new headquarters is close to our customers and the student-mechanics that participate in the training program that our nonprofit organization operates,” Bublr Board President Bruce Keyes said. “This part of Milwaukee is in the center of our growing regional network and in an area that draws all Milwaukeeans together.”

–By Alex Moe