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A Creative Class Den: Mastercraft Building Finds New Life as a Creatives Community

February 2, 2012 3 comments

There was a time not so distant in Omaha’s past when the city held a less than enlightened view of old buildings.  Many a grand and historic structure was lost due to apathy or outright shortsightedness, with the greatest travesty being the razing of a huge swath of late 19th and early 20th century warehouses in a great urban valley called Jobbers Canyon.  A new appreciation and vision for preserving, restoring, and giving new life to historic buildings is evidenced throughout much of the inner city.  One such reclamation project is The Mastercraft building in North Downtown.  My story that follows is not so much about owner Bob Grinnell’s acquisition of the abandoned former furniture manufacturing plant and his making needed repairs and improvements to it, but about the creatives who have inhabited the immense space and made it a collective or communnity of like-minded independent entrepreneurs.

©photo siliconprairienews.com

 

 

A Creative Class Den: Mastercraft Building Finds New Life as a Creatives Community

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon to appear in Omaha Magazine

 

Mastercraft has joined Saddle Creek Records, Slowdown, Film Streams, Hot Shops and Creighton University as North Downtown anchors turning a once forlorn urban terrain into a vital creative class corridor.

Since its flex-spaces opened two years ago the renovated Mastercraft Building, 1111 North 13th Street, has become home to 20 mostly creative-based small businesses. For decades the three-block long, circa 1941 structure housed the Mastercraft Furniture manufacturing company. The loft-style modular layout boasts high ceilings, skylights, exposed rough sawn lumber joists and concrete floors reminiscent of the Old Market’s industrial-warehouse spaces. The cool, classic, retro aesthetic appeals to artists and entrepreneurs. The ample free parking, easy Interstate-airport access and reasonable lease rates, plus a perch right in the heart of trendy North Downtown, are magnets, too.

John Henry Muller’s website design firm, What Cheer, was already in NoDo when in need of larger digs his biz became the first Mastercraft tenant in 2010.

“We loved the building. The raw industrial feel piqued our interest, but it wasn’t until hearing owner Bob Grinnell’s vision and passion for refurbishing this old beast of a building that it became a serious consideration for us,” says Muller.

Ben Drickey, who just relocated his Torchwerks motion image studio there, says besides being “a stylin’ hip place…it’s a rare and exciting opportunity for people to be a part of revitalizing their city, and I’m very happy and proud to be a part of it.”

©photo MinorWhite

 

 

Unlike the self-contained Old Market and its dense development, North Downtown is a sprawling patchwork. But there’s little doubt it’s emerged as a major cultural district in its own right. Music, film, art, design, education, athletics and hospitality all maintain a strong presence there. The district’s most public venues, TD Ameritrade Park, the CenturyLink Center, Lewis & Clark Landing and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, are destination attractions.

It’s also a residential neighborhood with Creighton student housing, Kellom Heights, the TipTop, Omaha Riverfront condos and Saddle Creek live-work spaces.

The Mastercraft adds to this mix a burgeoning creative collective under one roof.

“It’s a very engaged community and you can’t stay an outsider for very long,” says Megan Hunt, owner of CAMP Coworking, a venture she opened there after “immediately falling in love” with the site. “I knew that coming into the North Downtown community on the ground floor would be a wise business move, and working in this neighborhood during such high growth has been really beneficial.

“It’s grown into a really creative and nurturing place to work,” says Hunt, who also operates her Princess Lasertron custom bridal design business from there.

A common corridor and shared entry connect the various businesses, whose doors are almost always open to walk-in traffic and impromptu interaction.

“The building is wide open and it just sort of exudes this creative energy,” says Grain and Mortar graphic design owner Eric Downs. “There’s a great collaborative atmosphere that happens. We can walk out into the hallway and ask anyone, ‘Are you guys dealing with this? Do you ever have this problem?’ You don’t get that anywhere else. We go to lunch all the time as groups. If things slow down we go out and play in the hallway, literally, bringing out skateboards and scooters.”

Frisbee, too.

©photo princesslasertron.com

 

 

“There’s always people popping in and out of each other’s studios to say hello or ask questions,” says Dave Nelson, owner of youth branding agency Secret Penguin. He says he most enjoys “being around like-minded people and friends.”

“Everyone here kind of understands each other,” Downs says.

Don’t get Downs wrong, it’s not all about playtime. “We work really hard,” he says, “but it’s fun to know that a break from work is right out the door or right down the street. That definitely goes a long way to keep you creatively charged.”

Nelson says, “We’ve created areas within our own studio to draw, to skateboard, to swing on swings, to read books and any other thing you need to do to get your creative mind going in a productive way.”

The camaraderie extends to serious business to business commerce. Hunt says when she needs photography or graphic design, she calls on neighboring businesses specializing in those services.

Cross-referrals happen all the time.

“As creatives our world revolves around referrals,” says Downs. “We’re very sensitive to that fact. The ultimate compliment you can give someone is to refer business to them, and that’s definitely the case here. It’s just an unspoken understanding that that’s what we do for each other.”

“When you work so closely with people, you really appreciate and respect their businesses,” says Hunt.

 

 

“There is an eclectic mix of professionals around and the building is becoming quickly populated with talented entrepreneurs. We jive well with those individuals and we all have benefited from having each other’s business around,” says Bill Sitzmann, a partner in Minorwhite Studios photography.

“The vibe of the building reflects how we like to work,” says Muller, who likes its “vibrant, inviting atmosphere.”

Building owner Bob Grinnell doesn’t take credit for this creatives haven but he welcomes it and sees ever growing interest in the site. With 140,000 square feet to lease, he can accommodate dozens more businesses.

Downs considers Grinnell an ideal landlord. “What is extremely attractive is that he’s here every day. We like the way he runs the building and engages with the businesses here,” says Downs. “We feel like he has our best interests at heart.”

Mastercraft tenants hold occasional public events. Each second Friday CAMP hosts an open creative work time from 6 p.m. to midnight.

For the complete tenant directory and tour-leasing info, visit http://www.themastercraft.com.

 ©photo MinorWhite

House of Loom Weaves a New Cultural-Social Dynamic for Omaha

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

©photo, hearnebraska.org

 

 

Urban hot spots come and go.  A rocking new one in Omaha that’s all the rage is House of Loom.  What it’s staying power is no one knows, but it’s almost beside the point as far as co-founder Brent Crampton is concerned.  He’s more about using the venue as a launching pad for socially and culturally progressive ideas and connections that assume a life of their own than he is in making the place a runaway commercial success.  So far, he and his partners seem to be doing both.  Crampton is another in a long and growing line of creatives making an impact here and his House of Loom is another tangible expression of the more sophisticated and diverse cultural menu emerging in this once sleepy Midwest burg that has awakened.  Omaha has actually come into its own as a hopping place where there’s always something compelling going on no matter what you’re into.  This blog is full of profiles about the persons and places transforming the city into a cosmo receiving center and exporter of new, different, engaging stuff.  Much more to come.  Keep reading and checking back.

©photo, hearnebraska.org

 

 

House of Loom Weaves a New Cultural-Social Dynamic for Omaha

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in Encounter Magazine

For a startup bar, House of Loom at 1012 South 10th St. is generating mucho buzz. The reasons for its popularity are as eclectic as the place and the young creatives behind it.

Start with the name. It’s both a brand and a social theory that co-owner and music director Brent Crampton, a DJ by trade, conceived with business partner Jay Kline. Five years ago they launched loom, with a small l, as a roaming multicultural dance party aimed at getting people who normally don’t mix to meet, experience new cultures, form social networks and have fun.

“I have a passion for bringing people together,” says Crampton.

It never sat right with him that despite the Afro-beats he played, his DJing gigs drew  mostly white crowds. Under the loom name he began inviting diverse audiences to intersect over music or art or causes at theme nights. “Cultural ambassadors” spread the word.

“These are people who are naturally connectors who have a social network within a certain cultural demographic,” says Crampton. “Through networking we have a lot of people who are into what we’re doing and support us.”

For Crampton and Kline, loom describes their intent to weave the social fabric through music, dance and other art forms, thereby broadening the cultural experience and moving forward social progress. With his Russell Brand looks and persona, Crampton’s a new-school hipster at ease talking about groove as an instrument of change.

 

 

He, Kline (the former owner of Fluxiron Gallery) and a third partner, entrepreneur Ethan Bondelid, made loom hot ticket events. The turnouts and cachet kept growing but loom lacked a home of its own. By the partners leasing and renovating the former site of Bones, the Stork Club and the Neon Goose, they now have a distinctly urban space with more flexibility to entertain patrons and promote social agenda issues.

“It opens up possibilities to a lot of great things,” says Crampton.

Bondelid says it’s all about “getting people to try new things,” adding, “We invite people to go on an experience with us.”

Regulars have followed Crampton and Co. to the House of Loom’s near-Old Market location. First-timers are quickly becoming devotees. With a decor equal parts classic Old World bar, nouveau club, chic salon and kitsch bordello it has a warm, funky ambience that, combined with an intimate scale, encourages staying awhile and interacting.

“The idea is for it to look really nice but we don’t want any form of pretentiousness. We just want a nice, unique, comfortable place that does look elegant in its own way,” says Bondelid.

 

 

The bohemian vibe extends from the lounge’s rich, multi-colored Victorian-style furniture, homey book cases and tiled fireplace to the well-appointed oak and cedar bar and its crafted cocktails and premium beers to the black painted tin ceiling. Contemporary paintings and sculptures dot the interior.

Curtains can be drawn and furniture rearranged to create more private or open spaces.

A custom-built booth is where Crampton and guest MCs ignite the music. LED lights frame the electric mood. When weather permits, an outdoor patio and garden offer an open-air hang-out.

House of Loom has hosted everything from an Omaha Table Talk dinner to an Opera Omaha night to a Project Interfaith speed dialogue to a celebration of India’s Festival of Lights to a Tango Night to private parties, tastings and spoken word events. It’s an in meet-up spot for arts patrons before and after shows. Featured bands have played Cuban, hip-hop, jazz and a myriad of other music.

Catered international cuisine accompanies some events.

The cultural mix happens in a blend of music, food, ideas, personalities and walks-of-life. Bondelid says House of Loom is a haven for creative class urban adventurers seeking to sample “all different kinds” of experiences and expressions.

For events, bookings and hours, visit http://www.houseofloom.com or call 402-505-5494.

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