WHALE making fundraising push for ‘maker space’

By

Next spring, the dusty, long-vacant space at 141 Union St. could be a hive of innovation and design that gives a huge boost to New Bedford’s art and “maker” communities.

NEW BEDFORD — The wooden floors were bare, parts of the ceiling were crumbling and water pooled in small puddles in the basement, but next spring, WHALE executive director Teri Bernert said, the dusty, long-vacant space at 141 Union St. could be a hive of innovation and design that gives a huge boost to the city’s art and “maker” communities.

“We’re trying to keep the artists in New Bedford,” Bernert said Wednesday, standing in what will become the Co-Creative Center, a 10,000-square-foot space that will include work and exhibition areas, with offices and apartments upstairs.

People will be able to use the shared equipment and space through memberships. Bernert and Amanda DeGrace, WHALE’s development coordinator, agreed that if the thriving Groundwork collaborative on Purchase Street is a shared office environment, the Co-Creative Center downtown will be a shared design studio — or lab, or “maker space,” or, essentially, garage-style workshop.

“But a really nice garage,” Bernert joked.

Think 3-D printers, tool benches, graphic design technology and more. Users of the space could include former art students from UMass Dartmouth’s nearby Star Store campus, local artisans, designers, startups and others.

The Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) is planning a Saturday launch for an ambitious fundraising effort for the center, as it begins a final push toward opening the doors next May. WHALE is hoping to raise $50,000 by late November, and if it does so, quasi-governmental agency MassDevelopment will match the funds. But if they don’t make the goal, DeGrace said, they don’t get the dough.

“Think of it as like a Kickstarter for community development,” DeGrace said.

The matching funds are part of MassDevelopment’s Commonwealth Places program, and affiliated with the agency’s Transformative Development Initiative (TDI), which began in 2015. TDI beneficiaries include New Bedford’s Union and Purchase Innovation District. MassDevelopment works at federal, state and local levels to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.

Bernert said the Co-Creative Center’s fundraising effort and related events over the next two months are intended “to make the community aware of this new space that’s part of the creative economy of New Bedford.”

The redevelopment project also includes the adjoining 139 Union St., on the corner of Union and Acushnet Avenue. While the shared workspace at 141 Union will be a nonprofit model and eventually “its own entity,” Bernert said, the corner space at 139 Union will be a mixed-use model, with businesses, offices and housing.

Two eateries have signed letters of intent for leases: The Noodle Bowl, owned by Madalena and James Jezierski; and People’s Pressed, a juice bar.

Bernert said the exterior of 139 Union will have “an all-new, historic façade that will wrap around” the building, along the Acushnet Avenue side.

She said the cost of the entire project, including acquisition of the building, is about $2.3 million. Funding has come from several sources, including a deferred-interest, $1 million MassDevelopment loan announced in August.

WHALE will accept donations through Patronicity, a civic crowdfunding platform online. People also can learn more about the project and how to contribute by calling WHALE at 508-997-1776.

The upcoming push for $50,000 more — or $100,000, with the match — will include efforts to gather input from the community. From 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 3, WHALE will host an information session about the Co-Creative Center, to gather input on what local artisans might want to see in the maker space.

That event will be at Groundwork, in the Quest Center on Purchase Street.

“We have a lot of designers that work here who have expressed interest in utilizing the maker space,” Groundwork co-founder Dena Haden said.

Talks about shared memberships and other collaborations are under way, Haden and Bernert said.

“I think it’s going to be a great asset for the community — for makers, artists and designers. I think it’ll be a great hub to have in the middle of downtown,” Haden said of the Co-Creative Center. “It might lead to more graduates from the art school staying in town, if they can utilize the shop and share facilities.”

Follow Mike Lawrence on Twitter @MikeLawrenceSCT