New Makerspace Envisioned for Downtown; May Cost $1M

Monday, August 17, 2015, 12:21 am
By: 
Michael Teager

Image above: Architect’s preliminary design of a permanent makerspace under the colorful parking structure

City leaders are proposing creating a new “permanent makerspace” downtown under East Lansing’s colorful parking structure, and the project could cost as much as one million dollars. Kristin Shelley, Director of East Lansing Public Library (ELPL), spoke with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) at its July 23 meeting regarding plans for a permanent makerspace in downtown East Lansing at the north base of the Division Street Garage along Albert Avenue. (Click here to see the design.)

There are currently two makerspaces under the umbrella of the ELPL: a small studio at the ELPL (described by Shelley to the DDA as a “closet” of approximately 150 square feet) and a separate studio of approximately 1,500 square feet at University Place, Suite 212 (second floor of the Marriott building).

ELPL’s original intention was to provide a “pop-up makerspace” at the University Place location for about five months beginning in October 2014. Since then, Shelley told the DDA, “nearly 2,000 people” have visited the makerspace, not counting those just “dropping in.”

The contract was at first extended to July 2015, with the lease additionally extended through May 2016. The extension was both a response to what Shelley said was a strong positive reception by the public as well as a way to accommodate the upcoming ELPL renovation scheduled to begin this November. During the renovation, various sections of the library will be closed and programming will temporarily move to the University Place location.

When DDA members asked about what it would cost to create a “permanent makerspace” under the colorful parking garage, DDA staff resource Lori Mullins replied that, according to an engineering estimate and two different contractor quotes, the up-front cost to prepare and open the space itself would be “about $700,000.” That cost covers “build out” including HVAC and other necessities.

When adding in the cost for furnishing and new makerspace equipment, the cost is expected to total $1,000,000. When asked, Mullins noted that staffing for the new studio would initially come from the existing staffing pool, but she was unsure what it would ultimately require in costs for annual operations.

DDA members initially responded to the price with noticeable surprise (“ouch” can be heard on the meeting’s recording, for example). However, DDA member Lynsey Clayton then asked about the price in comparison with the recently-closed Bailey Community Center. Mullins replied that the proposed makerspace is a “smaller space than Bailey,” to which Clayton responded that, despite its size, the new studio could reach a “broader group of people” than Bailey.

Mullins agreed, saying that it would provide a “third space” downtown which could replace what was lost with the closing of Barnes & Noble: a place where people of all generations could visit, hang out, patronize, and socialize. Members of the DDA then stated that a makerspace was “relevant” considering the “climate we live in,” likening the proposed permanent studio to municipal parks. Mullins agreed with this point, comparing the funds for the proposed makerspace to those for Patriarche Park’s new playground.

There was brief discussion of whether revenue would be generated by the proposed permanent space. Currently, because the makerspace falls under the ELPL’s umbrella, it may not charge users beyond “cost recovery” (i.e., charging for materials used up).  The price of 3D printing at the studios is now 10 cents/gram of plastic used. There are current revenue-generating rental options for the University Place location for private parties and events, but there is no general admission charge.

I asked Director Shelley about funding for the proposed permanent studio downtown, to which she replied, “[the studio] will be completely funded through donations, grants, and fund-raising efforts. There is no money in the City’s budget to fund the permanent maker studio.” Regarding the current state of funding, Shelley wrote, “The permanent Maker Studio in downtown East Lansing is still a dream but we are working toward making it a reality.”

To date, funding for the University Place location within the Marriott building has relied upon donations. Per the ELPL’s website, “The ELPL 2.0 Maker Studio is generously funded by an anonymous donor from October 1, 2014 through July 31, 2015.” The recent extension through May 2016 was also funded through donations. As Shelley wrote to me, “[the funding] is a combination of donations we have received that are unrestricted and money raised at Books, Bites and Bids.”

Shelley noted the DDA’s overall support for the endeavor. She wrote, “[T]he DDA has been very receptive and gracious about the pop-up ELPL 2.0 Maker Studio.  We would not be in the space we are in without the connections and outreach the DDA has done on our behalf.”

No DDA funds have been used for the location, although as ELi has explained, the use of tax increment financing (TIF) in the downtown development district has created a situation where newly generated real estate taxes that would ordinarily be going to East Lansing’s library are instead being diverted to support downtown development. In fiscal year 2015, $78,178 in taxes was diverted away from the Library because of TIF in East Lansing.

Some of you might be wondering, what is a makerspace? Shelley described a maker studio to the DDA as a “hacker space”: a place to, she said, “tinker and create” at one’s own leisure but “with our products.” Those products currently include sewing machines, a “LEGO hackspace” (in Shelley’s words), a crafts space, Arduino devices (small, open source-programmable computers), and five 3D printers. According to 3DPrinting.com, “3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.” This photo from the City shows Mayor Nathan Triplett holding a 3D-printed version of the City’s seal made at an ELPL makerspace. (Article continues after photo.)

The purpose of the makerspace is to both create and let one’s imagination run wild. One such example is creating an action figure or bauble head of oneself. However, patrons have also used the studios to develop creative solutions for more practical applications, including creating replacement parts for personal drones. One person used a model to create a prosthetic appendage for an index finger.

For perspective, Shelley said that a figure or item standing several inches high takes “7-8 hours” for the 3D printing process to complete. A recent press release from the City announced that “The ELPL maker studios . . . recently completed the 100th 3D print job request.”

MSU maintains its own maker studio on campus, and during the end-of-semester rush it cannot keep pace with demand. At such times, MSU students sometimes come to the University Place location.

 

ELi will monitor developments of the proposed permanent location. You can read more about the ELPL makerspaces from this earlier report by ELi.