April 2, 2018

Printers Building becoming the Hub of Innovation

Photo | Grant Welker
A Technocopia member at the maker space's sixth-floor facility, one of several innovative and arts uses at the Printers Building.
Julian Wade, president, Davis Publications
Juliet Feibel, executive director, ArtsWorcester
Giselle Rivera-Flores, co-founder, IgWorcesterMA
Joe Bush, executive director of WCTI.

For most of its nearly century of history, Worcester's Printers Building has been just as its name implies: the home to printing operations.

But the last printer, Miles Press, moved out of its fifth-floor space at the start of this year, and a mix of creative and technological uses begun in the last few years is now building toward a critical mass.

Already housing the Worcester CleanTech Incubator and the makerspace Technocopia, among others, the Printers Building is now home to the incubator's new partner, Action! Worcester, which previously ran the Worcester Idea Lab on Franklin Street.

"This building's ecosystem is really exciting for us," said Joshua Croke, executive director of Action! Worcester.

Within a year, the building will host two new arts-related groups: IgWorcesterMA, a photography group, and ArtsWorcester, a nonprofit supporting local artists and holding exhibitions in its own gallery.

"Excitement isn't even the word," said Juliet Feibel, executive director of ArtsWorcester. "We're ecstatic."

ArtsWorcester was pitched on a spot in the building by Davis Publications President and Publisher Julian Wade – whose business owns the building through a related entity – and jumped at the chance to join the tenant list, Feibel said.

From printing to makers

The Portland Street building a block south of the Worcester Common is anchored by Davis Publications, a company more than a century old whose logo adorns a top corner of the building. For decades, the seven-story, 83,000-square-foot building was shared by The Davis Press Inc., Commonwealth Press and J.S. Wesby & Sons, the three printers who constructed the building in the 1920s.

The building retains its industrial feel, but use of the building has changed in more recent years.

Technocopia, a nonprofit space for startups, moved into an 8,000-square-foot space in 2015 and has roughly 70 members who use its metal or wood shops, 3D printers and other machinery and technology. It has a waiting list for workspace bays, and Co-Founder and instructor Lauren Monroe said Technocopia anticipates new working relationships with the building growing list of tenants.

The building hosts a range of other arts-related uses, including WICN 90.5 FM, a jazz radio station, and Crocodile River Music, an organization working with local community groups and performances spaces to spread African music locally, holding workshops on its seventh-floor space.

An arts renovation

A renovation is meant to help draw more uses to the facility. Davis also has its own art gallery in the building.

"The whole building is really going to be a brand-new space," said Curtis Reid, a board member and fifth-generation member of the Davis family to work for Davis Publications.

"That's something that the Davis family and the board of directors are really working toward," Reid said of hosting a broader range of tenants in the fields of the arts and innovation.

ArtsWorcester will take up more than 3,000 square feet in a much friendlier layout than its current space in the Aurora Building on Main Street, which has columns and is not compliant with accessibility codes.

IgWorcesterMA plans a new studio and workshop to give members access to industry leaders and help improve their skills, according to husband-and-wife co-founders Jaime Flores and Giselle Rivera-Flores. They plan to expand the group – whose name includes a nickname for the social media network Instagram – to include a new magazine and podcast.

"For us, the location is prime, but our reasons for taking this step goes beyond the location," Rivera-Flores said. "We are inspired by Julian Wade, and the work he is doing to ensure there is a strong sense of community in the building."

Those two arts groups will move into the Printers Building within the next year, joining Action! Worcester, which moved in last month.

A unified incubating effort

Action! Worcester and the Worcester CleanTech Incubator are remaining separate entities but are combining forces at a time when Worcester is hoping to grow its startup scene. They announced last month they've joined efforts and combed their spaces. They will also kick off a $2-million fundraising effort to help cover operations in the next three to five years.

The two entities now share WCTI's existing 6,000-square-foot space. Action! Worcester had been running an incubator space, the Worcester Idea Lab, around the corner at 20 Franklin St.

"The Printers Building is such an exciting opportunity," said Croke, from Action! Worcester.

Croke said he expects many of the roughly 13 member companies and 38 individuals who were members of the Idea Lab to make the move. There are about 10 member companies at WCTI, including two battery technology companies, Battery Resources & Kinetic Batteries, and Embue, a maker of smart home technology.

Action! Worcester will combine its staff of two full-time and one-part time employees with WCTI's lone full-time employee, Executive Director Joe Bush.

Bush said he's admired the work of Action! Worcester during the two years WCTI has operated nearby.

"This partnership creates a unified effort to drive [an] innovative ecosystem in Worcester," he said.

The Idea Lab is one of a few remaining tenants, along with startup companies, in the 20 Franklin St. building owned by the Worcester Business Development Corp. That building is also seeing changes.

Petricore, a video-game design company, moved in January to a new building at Becker College, the alma mater of its co-founders. Ten24, a digital solutions company, is planning to expand to the fourth-floor space Petricore left behind.

Ten24 moved to 20 Franklin St. three years ago seeking a more lively environment with other employers than its previous space in Northborough. The company now has 25 employees and plans to hire another three or four this year, President David Crouch said.

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