Construction to begin on city’s newest ‘makerspace’ Open Works
by Natalie Sherman
Published in the Baltimore Sun September 21, 2015
Baltimore Arts Realty Corp. will begin a major renovation Tuesday on a Greenmount Avenue warehouse with the goal of filling the building with the hum of craftsmen, artists and other small manufacturers.
The $11 million Open Works project would transform the 34,000-square-foot building in Greenmount West with a cafe, computer classrooms, textile, metal and wood workrooms and state-of-the-art 3-D printers and laser machines. BARCO, a nonprofit developer, also hopes to offer space to job training groups, host networking events and partner with nearby schools and universities.
“We really think we can see a lot of small businesses coming out of here,” said Will Holman, general manager for Open Works. “The way we’re going to rebuild manufacturing in the city is from the grass roots up.”
The project is the city’s latest so-called “makerspace” — a new buzzword for what is basically a communal workshop where users share tools and real estate they couldn’t afford individually.
The concept is not new. The Baltimore Clayworks pottery center, for instance, dates to 1980.
But new technology, bigger markets made accessible by the Internet and the rise of a do-it-yourself culture have brought new attention to the idea. For-profit and nonprofit models have popped up across the country, including in Baltimore.
Their focus ranges from jewelry making to welding and they include organizations like the Station North Tool Library, which lends out about 2,000 tools, offers classes in skateboard making and homecare, and has grown to 1,000 members since opening less than three years ago.
The scale of BARCO’s $11 million Open Works project, which is backed with $800,000 in state funding and grants from some of the city’s largest philanthropic groups, and its focus on job training and business incubation suggests the movement is pushing into a new arena.
“It’s broadening the conversation,” said Sarah McCann, Baltimore Clayworks executive director.
Started by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, BARCO got interested in building a makerspace because it saw an opportunity to create an amenity catering to recent graduates and other members of the creative class, keeping them from fleeing to bigger arts hubs like New York or Los Angeles and staunching the flow of people from the city, said Laurens “Mac” MacLure, BARCO’s managing director.
At a basic level, bringing down real estate and equipment costs — what MacLure called “democratizing the forces of production” — also supports small businesses, boosting economic development.
The group chose the 1400 Greenmount Avenue building because it wanted to extend the development happening in Station North — the group is also working on the Motor House on North Avenue — as well as to allow tenants to tap into the tax credits available to businesses in the district.
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