The DL: Downtown a home for creative class
Downtowns across the country are seeing a boom. Two of the largest age groups in the country — so-called "millennials" and baby boomers — are finding urban, walkable neighborhoods attractive. Boomers, looking to downsize and have easy access to art, culture and cuisine, are selling their large suburban homes and buying condos in urban centers. Millennials came of age during the great recession, and many of them never even tried to obtain a driver's license. They are seeking high-density neighborhoods with the convenience of public transportation, a strong sense of community, and the same conveniences that attract the boomers.
Many larger cities have been suffering "brain drain," finding themselves unable to retain young college graduates. Tucson has been no exception. Technological advances have created the ability for them to work from anywhere, allowing them to choose where they live not based on a job, but on quality of life. This "creative class" has often decided to live in cites in which they have access to public transportation and the other amenities they value.
Tucson's Sun Link streetcar was a first step in not only trying to retain our best and brightest, but recruit them from other cities. The streetcar connects two major areas of employment: Downtown and the University of Arizona. By doing so, it also bridges the center of research and education with the hub of cultural arts, nightlife and fine dining.
Now, co-working spaces are popping up across Downtown, laying the groundwork for a high-tech hub in the heart of the city, helping to retain those educated young people that were so eager to flee Tucson a few years ago. Spoke 6 was one of the first of these spaces in town, and it will soon have plenty of company.
Connect, which will be housed above the Rialto Theatre on Congress Street, is one of these spaces. According to the property owner, Scott Stiteler, the company will look to emulate the now-famous Google work environment, allowing people and ideas to, well, connect and interact with one another in a creative, fun but serious environment.
Gangplank, which opened in the historic Pioneer Building this week, provides a rent-free work environment for tech startups and other companies in exchange for an assurance that all tenants give back to the Tucson community. According to their mission statement, Gangplank "seeks to unite the creative class by providing space and resources for innovative ideas to flourish." Gangplank will have a many of the tools that a young tech startup company needs to be successful but could not afford on its own, like a 3-D printer, and several amenities that are just for fun, like the foosball machine.
A completely different take on the co-working space will take shape at the beautiful old building known as the Bates Mansion —a former home of the Rocky Mountain Oyster Club — as it is converted into Maker House. Maker House, funded by the local Internet company ArtFire, will shift focus a bit away from tech and onto craft. They will still have their own 3-D printer, but will also be a home for knitters, hobbyists, and other hands-on creative minds. Maker House also plans on having resident experts that will teach a variety of courses, from everything you ever need to know about particle physics to a dual self-defense/knitting class for women. Maker House will operate on a membership basis, with basic memberships expected to start at $10 per month.
Another creative space, Xerocraft, bills itself as a "hackerspace," with access to welders and other tools. The nonprofit is renovating part of the Steinfeld Warehouse, 101 W. 6th Ave.