Editorial: Steeplegate as a space for makers

Friday, March 09, 2018

We think about the Steeplegate Mall a lot, specifically about how much it has changed in the nearly three decades since it opened. It’s still a nice building that should be the centerpiece of a thriving part of the city, but the empty parking lot tells a different story. The enclosed American mall belongs to a different era.

On Monday, Monitor reporter Caitlin Andrews got us thinking about Steeplegate once again. She wrote about a Concord group that is trying to launch a makerspace, which is a place where people can go to create, collaborate and learn in areas such as electronics, woodworking, metalworking, rapid prototyping, culinary arts, automotive work, etc. For those who don’t have the space, resources or tools to create in their houses or apartments, makerspaces offer an affordable option. A monthly membership is typically in the $50 to $60 range, which often includes 24/7 access to workspaces, tools, storage, mentors, collaborators and free or discounted lessons. Job one for Making Matters NH is finding investors, but the other big task is finding the right space. 

One of the great things about makerspaces is that they breathe new life into forgotten buildings, a key facet of economic development. Manchester Makerspace is in a former industrial building on Old Granite Street. The Claremont MakerSpace is preparing to launch in an old mill building known as the Sawtooth. The Concord group has looked at the old Department of Transportation garage on Stickney Avenue and some industrial properties on Storrs Street and Village Street. Of course, our first thought was Steeplegate.

To be clear, we’re not exactly sure how such an arrangement would work, but we love the idea of what is essentially a volunteer-run business incubator putting down roots in one of the most important buildings on the Heights. With the mall losing its Bon-Ton stores, that opens up two large chunks of space for the city’s makers to take over. And if that were to happen, some other mall vacancies might disappear, too. Budding culinary artists working in the makerspace’s commercial kitchen could re-energize the food court. Inventors could reveal their 3D-printed dreams in kiosks and storefronts. Artists of various mediums could display and sell their work just steps from where they created it. The ripples could carry Steeplegate right into the 21st century where it belongs and the city needs it.

The marriage of mall and makerspace seems, in a word, perfect.