The empty building at 101 Superior St. looks chipped, grey and lifeless as the clouds overhead–but that’s all about to change.
The building in downtown Albion will become an active creative collaboration site in the near future.
The building, owned by Albion College, stands at the northwest corner of the N Superior St. and Cass St. intersection. The college, in collaboration with the Michigan Works Association and the Economic Development Corporation, is working to transform the abandoned structure into a place where college students and community members can help each other, collaborate and create small businesses.
The project should be completed by fall 2016. The building is currently undergoing architectural work.
Dr. Andrew French is helping lead the development of the makerspace, as many are calling it. A chemistry professor at Albion College, French is city council member and is taking a break from teaching to work full time as the Director of Community Action at the college.
French expressed optimism in the project. He said that the building will “become that iconic building that says, this is where the college and the community work together to revitalize the community.”
The building will host Albion College’s Career and Internship Development office, a Build Albion Fellows office, a Ford Institute and a Gerstacker Institute office. This will allow the college to integrate more fully into the community.
Gerstacker students, along with the Career and Internship Development Office, will provide community members with VITA tax prep, resume and cover letter support, all from a central location.
In addition, the 101 building will have 20,000 sq. ft. of flexible space, including retail space. This space can be used for anything, such as art, community programing, club meetings and business creation.
French emphasized the importance of collaboration between Albion College and the community, because the two have a symbiotic relationship. A healthy community will benefit the college, and vice versa. “I believe the college can be the catalyst that revitalizes the downtown,” he said.
French described the building as a kind of small business incubator. Students and community members wanting to start a small business can get started without most overhead costs, eliminating much of the risk.
Albion College students are also involved in the project’s development. Students in the Albion Accelerator Humanities Lab plan ways in which the maker space can best serve the wants and needs of the community. The Humanities Lab includes students from both management and art classes at Albion.
Dr. Vicki Baker is a professor in Gerstacker, and teaches a management class involved with the Albion Accelerator Humanities Lab. Her class is currently working on analyzing data and planning community programming based on the wants and needs of surveyed children and parents in the community.
This community programming will likely be housed in the 101 space. “We can offer programming to our youth while also offering programming to support their parents and other community members simultaneously.” Baker said. “Lots of potential and exciting opportunities.”
Baker said that she foresees experiential learning and internship opportunities for students as well. “Their engagement in this project is already supporting experiential learning and support of the community.” she said. “It’s been a win-win so far.”
Photo by Nicole Kurlich