From functional to funky, local fabricator hopes to set up new shop in North Lawrence

photo by: Courtesy: aspiretheempire.com

Riggs Fabrication plans to move to a new location in North Lawrence so it can continue to do large projects like the wizard's head that hung above the stage of the Dancefestopia music festival in Kansas City. Owner Mike Riggs said the fabrication shop did a lot of work for the music industry prior to the pandemic, but also does a lot of functional pieces for other businesses or consumers.

When you work with 6-foot tall chickens, having the right amount of space is important. Considerations like those are behind plans filed by a Lawrence businessman and artist to set up shop in a North Lawrence industrial location.

Mike Riggs is seeking a special permit from Lawrence City Hall to locate Riggs Fabrication at an existing industrial space at 912 N. Third St. in North Lawrence. For the past five years, Riggs has been making everything from the functional to the funky. That could include welded table legs for a custom piece of furniture or a large iron banjo sculpture to welcome people to the Bluegrass in the Bottoms festival.

“I would say that metal is my thing, but if somebody asks for a fiberglass chicken, I will do it,” Riggs said.

That’s what he’s working on currently after a restaurant group commissioned him to build a 6-foot fiberglass chicken for a new restaurant it is opening in the Kansas City area.

photo by: Courtesy: Riggs Fabrication

A giant banjo is one of many creations Lawrence businessman Mike Riggs has made out of shop at Riggs Fabrication. The company has filed plans with City Hall to open a new workshop in North Lawrence.

In the past, the music industry has been a big customer. Promoters often have hired Riggs to create attention-getting pieces of art to display at concerts or musical festivals. That included a giant green wizard’s head that he and fellow artist Kent Smith built to hang above the stage at a Dancefestopia, a Wizard of Oz-themed music festival in Kansas City.

That project was typical — if a 12-foot wizard’s head can ever be typical — in that the project was a collaboration and it was big.

“A lot of the calls from artists are they have an idea for something big they want to build,” Riggs said. “That seems to be what I get into a lot.”

photo by: Courtesy: Riggs Fabrication

A giant wizard’s head was built in the shop of Riggs Fabrication. The large piece ended up as a stage display as part of a Kansas City music festival with a Wizard of Oz theme.

Having the right type of space for large projects and for collaborations was among the reasons Riggs started looking to move from his current East Lawrence location near the Warehouse Arts District.

His current space in a warehouse near Ninth and Delaware streets has about the same amount of indoor space as his future location off of North Third Street. But the new location has all the indoor space in one building, instead of two at his existing site, and the new spot will have a much larger outdoor work space.

“If I wanted to have a sculpture garden, I would have the space,” Riggs said.

The North Lawrence space is in a small industrial area behind the O’Reilly Auto Parts store. The space previously housed a vintage motorcycle shop.

But before Riggs can move into the new space, he does need to win a key city approval. The project requires a special use permit, which means both the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the City Commission need to approve the project.

It is not the funkiness of Riggs’ work, though, that requires the permit. Rather, it is that the project technically will be listed as a “makerspace.” Makerspaces generally are group facilities where members can pay a fee to use specialized equipment, have access to shop space and get the benefits of having a workspace with other builders or makers.

Riggs said that wasn’t exactly what he planned for the space. For instance, he won’t be selling any memberships to use his facility. But he does anticipate having other artists and builders located at the site, either for short or long periods, depending on what types of projects they may be working on. He also has taught classes in creative construction to the Lawrence Boys & Girls Club, and he wants to be able to do those activities at his new location as well.

The new space also will allow him to own his shop space rather than paying rent. He said that was important because he’s decided he wants to make a bigger investment in the business, which he conceded is a difficult one to explain.

“I build all sorts of crazy stuff,” Riggs said to describe the business, although he said there are plenty of everyday items he builds primarily for businesses, such as a handrail or a display case or some other one-off item that requires fabrication skills.

Riggs’ background is as a manufacturing engineer. He worked in that industry in Denver before he moved to Lawrence with his wife, who took a job as a physician in the community.

“I was building medical devices in Denver,” Riggs said. “There weren’t that many opportunities like that in Lawrence, so I had to think of something else to do. I got tired of working for someone else, and I realized I really just wanted to start making stuff.”

But not just any stuff. Riggs said there was a particular part of his job that he really enjoyed.

“I hate building things more than once,” Riggs said. “My wife asks me why I don’t find one product to make and mass produce it. I don’t want any part of that. I get bored. I like having something new to build every day.”

Riggs said he hoped to win the necessary city approvals in time to move to the new location by midsummer.

photo by: Courtesy: Riggs Fabrication

Lawrence-based Riggs Fabrication built several lighted towers that were on display at a previous Boulevardia music festival in Kansas City.

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