Plans for the Near East Side entrepreneurial hub StartingBlock Madison are now taking shape without a “maker space” that had been considered a key anchor of the project.
The StartingBlock proposal, slated for the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, is expected to be introduced to the City Council in July in the hope that construction can begin before the end of 2016.
But those plans will not include Sector67, a “very disappointing” development, said both StartingBlock executive director Scott Resnick and Sector67 founder and director Chris Meyer.
Meyer has been in on project planning from the start. “I spent, for three years, every Thursday morning, at least two hours working on that project,” he said.
But terms of a contract offered by StartingBlock earlier this year did not meet the criteria Sector67 needs: a low-cost property that Sector67 would own, or at least lease on a long-term basis, Meyer said.
“They wanted a five-year lease with an option to renew,” Meyer said. “Who’s to say that that provides any more stability than we have now?”
Sector67, currently at 2100 Winnebago St. on an annual lease, houses machines that include computers, 3D printers, milling machines, welding equipment, industrial sewing machines and a car lift.
“It’s very important for us to have permanent space with the variety of equipment we have,” Meyer said. “Some tools weigh about 6,000 pounds apiece.”
Price was also a factor, he said. Without its separately owned space, the nonprofit Sector67 would have to pay property taxes as part of StartingBlock, putting the estimated annual lease at $30,000 a year, said Meyer.
“Right now, we pay $50,000 a year for rent. So it doesn’t make any sense to move to a place that costs two-thirds of what we pay now,” he said.
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Sector67 is instead “very actively looking at different real estate options,” Meyer said.
Resnick, who’s also been in the core planning group, said the real stumbling block for Sector67 came when the StartingBlock project moved from other potential sites and became part of an eight-story office tower.
American Family Insurance Group will build and own the building. StartingBlock will occupy two floors, with 50,000 square feet, and American Family will move some of its offices into the other six floors.
Resnick said the industrial nature of Sector67 made it hard to accommodate in the latest project plan. For example, the maker space holds an annual iron pour outdoors, in which participants craft items out of molten iron. In addition, welding and auto mechanics would require special safety equipment and heating and air conditioning modifications.
Resnick said StartingBlock now plans a less-elaborate space with a 3D printer, laser cutters and other equipment. “It would not have the same gritty feel; it would be more of a clean fab (fabrication) lab,” he said.
As for tenants, Resnick said he expects organizations such as the gener8tor business accelerator and Capital Entrepreneurs mentorship group to be housed within StartingBlock as well as a number of startups and small businesses. Negotiations are in progress with game development company PerBlue. MobileIgniter, which connects physical objects to the computer cloud, and online grocery ordering GrocerKey are prospects, too.
StartingBlock is still trying to raise money. The project has drawn about $2.5 million of the $3 million it needs to build its space, Resnick said. That includes $1.5 million from the city of Madison.
In addition to the American Family building, the total project includes an adjacent office tower, by Gebhardt Development, with a performing arts venue and commercial space.
A parking ramp would be built across the street, at Main and Livingston streets. Plans for the parking ramp are one reason for delays in the project, Resnick said. A year ago, those involved in StartingBlock hoped it would open in “early winter” of 2016; now, their goal is for completion in late 2017.
But Resnick said he is confident the project will be built: “This is going to happen.”