Home > Business, Entrepreneurial, North Downtown, Writing > A Creative Class Den: Mastercraft Building Finds New Life as a Creatives Community

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

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.



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.”

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.

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