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Group finalizing lease for East Lawrence space to house incubator for artists, inventors, craftsmen

Finally, a gym where they won’t look at me funny when I wear my biker shorts with my tool belt.

No, it won’t have treadmills and weight benches. It will have something even better: tools and workbenches.

Eric Kirkendall, a local advocate for artists and inventors, has confirmed to me that a group he leads is finalizing a deal to lease an industrial building along East Ninth Street to house a new concept that tentatively is being called the Lawrence Community Workshop.

The concept, Kirkendall said, will be structured a lot like a workout gym. You’ll pay a monthly fee to access the shop’s equipment and training sessions.

The end result, Kirkendall hopes, is a place where artists, inventors, craftsmen and other creative types can strengthen their career potential.

“To me, this is really an economic development project,” Kirkendall said. “There is an incubator in town for biotech firms, but if you are a bright, creative, young person who wants to build something and make something, there is really no place for you to go.”

The Community Workshop group expects to finalize a lease by the end of the month for the vacant building at 512 E. Ninth Street. The approximately 4,000-square-foot building formerly was the workshop for noted artist Stan Herd, who recently moved his space down the street to East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District near the Poehler Lofts building.

The workshop will have all the basic woodworking and metal shop tools, but it also will have some advanced pieces of equipment that get expensive for start-up businesses to purchase. The space is expected to have a 3D printer and scanner, which is a high-tech piece of equipment that spits out (sorry to get so technical) three-dimensional objects based on a digital design you input into the machine. There is much talk about how the devices are going to revolutionize small-scale manufacturing.

The shop also is expected to have a couple of CNC machine tools. Those are devices such as high-tech lathes and routers that automatically cut out shapes and designs based on a pattern that is entered into a computer.

The workshop also is slated to have some more traditional computer capabilities — such as computers with Photoshop and other programs — for artists and designers.

The building will have one other additional component: an art gallery. The building will have space for about 400 linear feet of art gallery space that he believes can accommodate up to 100 artists. The gallery will be designed in a way that it can also function as meeting room and classroom space.

“Training sessions are expected to be a big part of what we do,” Kirkendall said. “We hope to train 1,000 people a year out of there.”

As for the financial aspects of this deal, Kirkendall said the group currently is contemplating a fee of $29 per month for people who want to have access to the workshop, and $20 per month for artists who want to have space in the gallery.

The workshop will function as a non-profit venture. The idea grew out of a previous idea for an arts, science and creative incubator that the group Lawrence Creates had about two years ago. Since then, Lawrence Creates has partnered with the well-established Lawrence Art Guild. The 51-year old non-profit has taken over the effort to find grant funding for the workshop idea. The group’s non-profit status also means people can make tax-deductible donations, including tools, to the project.

But Kirkendall said that an attractive lease rate on the building will make it possible for the workshop project to proceed even before grants are found. He hopes to have activity in the space by mid- to late summer.

The idea of a community workshop is a new concept to Lawrence, and it should be an interesting one to watch. The workshop is locating in an area of town with some momentum. Just down the street is the previously mentioned Warehouse Arts District, which includes some low-cost, small-scale office space for start-ups.

I was just telling someone the other day that the days ahead should be interesting for both Lawrence’s large-scale — think Farmland Industries business park and completion of the SLT — and small-scale business scenes.

But I don’t think he heard me. He was busy staring at my tool belt.

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