Baltimore's newest makerspace, Open Works, opens Tuesday

First look inside Baltimore's newest makerspace, Open Works

Baltimore Arts Realty Corp.'s Open Works is opening its doors Tuesday in Greenmount West, making it the most recent initiative in the city aimed at reviving small-scale manufacturing and stimulating growth among creative businesses.

BARCO spent $11.5 million to convert the 34,000-square-foot former distribution warehouse into a so-called makerspace, offering work space and tools to members, in an effort to improve access to resources that might otherwise be unaffordable and a barrier to launching a business.

"We want to grow Baltimore's economy back to its former glory, from the bottom up," said Will Holman, Open Works' general manager.

BARCO bought the property at 1400 Greenmount Ave., across from Green Mount Cemetery, in 2013 and broke ground last year.

The space houses wood and metal shops, 3-D printing and textiles studios, and an electronics lab. All are accessible through monthly memberships, which cost between $70 and $125, or a day pass for $25.

For $125 a month, entrepreneurs who want a dedicated space for their projects can rent one of 140 micro-studios, each with 42 square feet of space. Micro-studios come with a storage locker and an address for establishing business headquarters.

Open Works adds to a growing network of Baltimore facilities that offer communal workshops and target entrepreneurs looking to build their businesses with higher-quality tools or amateur makers who want to take their craft to the next level.

The Foundery, which relocated and expanded in Port Covington's City Garage this year, is stocked with industrial-grade manufacturing equipment and is geared toward small manufacturers. Station North Tool Library, which allows members to check out tools, caters to home woodworkers and independent contractors who want to learn how to turn occasional handyman jobs into steady work.

Baltimore Development Corp. President Bill Cole said facilities like Open Works can make Baltimore more appealing for new small business and help revive its history of small-scale manufacturing.

"I look at it and think of how many jobs we can create, how many entrepreneurs can start a business because they now have the tool they only dreamed of having access to," Cole said.

In addition to its potential to create jobs and keep talent in Baltimore, Cole said, he is excited about how Open Works can advance revitalization in the area.

"There's really something happening in that part of Baltimore, something really positive," Cole said. "Open Works has become a really transformational piece of the puzzle over there."

The Station North neighborhood has been transformed over the past several years from an area known for its vacant buildings to an emerging artist hub.

Earlier this year, nonprofit developer Jubilee Baltimore opened its $19 million renovation of The Centre, a former theater that now houses co-working space Impact Hub, video game developer Sparkypants Studios, the Baltimore Jewelry Center and arts centers from the Johns Hopkins University and Maryland Institute College of Art.

After opening its 69-unit affordable housing unit for artists, City Arts, six years ago, Jubilee Baltimore will open City Arts 2 in November. The second artists-only residence has 60 affordable-housing units and is at 1700 Greenmount Ave., blocks away from Open Works.

"Baltimore, for the first time in its history, is becoming an arts center," said Charles Duff, president of Jubilee Baltimore.

Improving the neighborhood and creating a community for builders is an integral part of Open Works' mission, Holman said.

One of Open Works first members is Jimmi, a 3-D printing company founded last year by two MICA graduates. Jimmi makes 3-D printer kits and runs a series called Buildclass to teach people how to build a printer using the kit.

As MICA entrepreneurs-in-residence for the 2015-2016 school year, Jimmi founders Harrison Tyler and Evan Roche were able to base company operations at their MICA studio and use the school's labs. But since the school year ended, business has been on hold until Jimmi can move into its space at Open Works this month. The company needs access to high-tech tools that Tyler said the two can't afford to buy on their own, so a private studio isn't an option.

"If a membership is $125 for full access, that's about the monthly lease payment to own just one of the machines," Tyler said. "It's more tools than I could afford to have access to any other way."

Extra space and resources also mean Jimmi can move forward with new printer projects, such as a 3-D printer kit that scientists and researchers can use to print biomaterials like scaffolding that could be used to grow skin or even an organ, Tyler said.

Jimmi also is building a large format 3-D printer, to become part of Open Works' tools, that can print items up to a meter square.

"We can really bring those into reality once we start working at Open Works," Tyler said of Jimmi's upcoming projects.. "Our research and development will really be able to pick up."

The company has primarily taken its printer kits and Buildclass sessions directly to labs, schools or companies that want to learn how to build and use 3-D printers. Being able to hold classes at Open Works will broaden Jimmi's potential customer base, to include more hobbyists or entrepreneurs who are interested in 3-D printing for their personal use.

Rep. Elijah Cummings will be on hand for Tuesday's opening ceremonies.

"If we are going to lift Baltimore families out of poverty and into the middle class, we need to ensure that our workers have access to 21st century tools and training that will enable them to succeed in the 21st century economy," said Cummings, a Baltimore City Democrat. "Open Works will help make Baltimore a global innovation hub, which will create jobs here in Baltimore that cannot be shipped overseas."

Aside from workspace, Open Works will offer classes for Baltimore residents who want to learn a new trade or hone their skills.

The organization also is partnering with nonprofit organizations to offer classes for children. A mobile makerspace will travel to local K-12 schools to teach a technology or engineering lesson and show off some cool tools to more students.

"People come for the tools, but they stay for the community," Holman said. "If all they want to do is make stuff, people are happy in their garage or basement. The real value of a makerspace isn't the tools or the technology or the space, it's the community and the connections that blossom there."

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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