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Millennium Park bicycle center gets new operator for first time since 2004 opening

Shift Transit, whose CEO launched Divvy, will operate the McDonald’s Cycle Center, though several aldermen complained about fees Shift plans to charge for showers, locker room and towel services and bike parking and rental.

The McDonald’s Cycle Center, at the north end of Millennium Park, will be operated by a new vendor.
The McDonald’s Cycle Center, at the north end of Millennium Park, will be operated by a new vendor.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A bicycle parking garage described as the “best kept secret under Grant Park” will be “aggressively marketed” under new management, thanks to a three-year contract advanced Thursday amid concern about “price-gouging.”

Shift Transit, whose CEO launched Chicago’s popular Divvy bike-sharing program, will operate the McDonald’s Cycle Center at 239 E. Randolph in Millennium Park. Since its 2004 inception, the center has been operated by Bike & Roll Chicago.

The City Council’s Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation signed off on the three-year concession agreement — with the option to renew for two more years — after the concession agreement approved by the Chicago Park District was shifted to the city.

The vote was unanimous, though several aldermen complained about the fees Shift Transit plans to charge for services including bike parking and rentals, showers, locker rooms and towels.

Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th) zeroed in on the bike rental fee.

“$20-an-hour? That’s pretty darned expensive,” Tunney said.

Anne Davis, contract administrator for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, said the $20-an-hour fee is tailor-made for tourists who are less inclined to choose Divvy.

“Divvy is meant more as a commuter piece. There’s a time limit on the amount of time you can keep a Divvy without exchanging it. In this instance, with the bicycle rental, they can keep the bike for the whole day if they want it,” Davis said.

Tunney was not appeased. He noted an eight-hour rental would cost the user $160.

“To me, that’s price-gouging. … I think it’s too expensive — even for a tourist,” the alderman said.

Committee Chairman Nick Sposato (38th) agreed $20-an-hour “does seem a bit high to me.” But he understands the rationale.

“If it was $20 a day, people just may tie up the bike for the whole day, and then we couldn’t be circulating those bikes for people to use,” Sposato said.

The Cycle Center includes indoor parking for 300 bikes along with locker rooms, showers, towel service and bicycle repairs.

The Shift Transit agreement calls for the company to pay the city an annual license fee of $60,000 along with an escalating percentage of gross sales ranging from 3 percent in the first year to 7 percent in third year.

Total revenues to the city are expected to rise from $74,400 in the first year to $100,600 in the third year.

Sposato noted the Cycle Center sells annual memberships for $250. Members can ride to work, shower and park their bike. The fee “boils down to 65 cents a day. … That seems to be pretty fair, pretty cheap to me,” Sposato said.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose ward includes Millennium Park, was thrilled to hear Shift Transit plans to “aggressively market” a bicycle garage that’s barely known, despite being open since 2004.

“The fact that most members of the City Council didn’t even know this existed tells you that the last contract — it fell short, to be polite, on its marketing efforts,” Reilly said.

“Very few people know this facility existed. And it’s a really fantastic facility. It’s the best-kept secret under Grant Park. That, I think, is a shame. The commitments that have been made to us on a very aggressive marketing effort to the bicycle community that exists today, but also to the neighborhoods, is imperative if this is gonna come close to meeting its revenue goals.”

The decision to move the concession agreement from the Park District to the city prompted Reilly to ask for subject matter hearings to lift the veil on the murky management of Millennium Park and its contract gravy train.

“There were questions about, why was the Park District involved in concessions in Millennium Park if this is a city asset? Well, there’ve been a whole series of investigative stories written by Tribune and Sun-Times. … It’s not a good story. It involves a lot of clout and a lot of influence-peddling and that sort of nonsense,” Reilly said.