Photo: Make Ventura, a nonprofit organization that runs a public makerspace, has been told to move out of their space in downtown Ventura.

by Kimberly Rivers

Last month, Make Ventura, a nonprofit public makerspace, was given a 60-day notice to vacate the space at 420 E. Santa Clara St. in Ventura. They were told it was to make space for an expansion of the Downtown Police Task Force office in the same building.

“We were told about a month ago to vacate by Sept. 20,” said Dave Strain, executive director of Make Ventura. “It’s not punitive” in any way, and he said that the organization has a good relationship with its landlord, Downtown Ventura Partners (DVP). The property is owned by the City of Ventura, and leased by DVP who rents out different portions of the space.

A makerspace is like a public version of an inventors or creators workshop. It includes tools and supplies for individuals to design and build all kinds of things. All manner of hand tools, electric tools, saws and high-tech tools, such as 3D printers, are in the mix. The space is open to the public for a monthly or annual membership fee. Consumable materials on hand are free. Makerspaces are popping up around the country and provide a unique, all-ages gathering place for hands-on inventing and making.

”We are scrambling of course,” said Strain about finding a replacement spot. He acknowledges they “had a sweetheart deal” in terms of very low rent, but he points out that usually cities consider public makerspaces “a feather in their cap” and are something that “attract young families” because a makerspace is an important resource for the community.

Dave Armstrong, the former president of Make Ventura, arranged the rental deal when the organization first moved in. That agreement included “very low rent” and the understanding that the organization would “enhance and rehabilitate the building.”

“It had become a broken-window building,” Strain said. But when Make Ventura moved in, the organization helped improve it. 

“It has been a good partnership between our organization and Make Ventura,” said Kevin Clerici, director of DVP. He said the rent Make Ventura had been paying was “heavily subsidized and that allowed them to incubate and grow their membership.” The mission of DVP “is to foster a vibrant commercial and cultural district with strategic capital improvements, enhanced maintenance and security, effective marketing and promotions, historic preservation education, and effective administration.”

Clerici said Make Ventura would have time to “find a space that fits their needs a little bit better.”

“Our space is not ideal for what they want to do,” according to Clerici, saying that the downtown police task force will be expanding and needs more space in the building. He said they received notification from the Ventura Police Department that more space was needed, because they are adding additional officers to their downtown task force.

“We all fit in the current location,” said Rick Murray, commander with the Ventura Police Department, responding to why they need to expand into the space where Make Ventura is. He said they’ve already added two additional officers to the downtown task force as a result of Measure O funding, and they will be hiring one more officer in the next few months.

“It’s just a bit tight” in the current space they are occupying in the building, said Murray. With more space there will be “more room to sit, that’s all. A little more comfortable for everybody.”

“We are also adding additional downtown ambassadors to our team; we needed additional space as well,” said Clerici about DVP. The two teams of ambassadors, the “blue crew” and “red crew,” work in the downtown area cleaning gutters and parking lots, or “making our public spaces welcoming for everyone.” The coverage area for those crews has expanded west all the way to Patagonia and more crew members will be hired to cover the larger territory.

“Makerspaces are usually for profit, or supported by community,” said Strain. “We were being supported by our city by having that reduced rent, but that has gone the way of the dodo.”

Right now the Make Ventura space is about 2,000 square feet, half inside and half outside. And Strain says the space and the deal they had for rent will be hard to replicate. They have been offered some space at E.P. Foster Library in Ventura, but he points out that only “quiet technology” could go into that space, and their noisy tools may find a home at Ventura College. And the space would only be open when the library or college could allow it to be. Right now, hours can be set so that folks can use the space after work.

”That’s the thing that bugs me the most, these spaces fill an important niche in communities,” said Strain. A makerspace can be a job training site for people transitioning to new careers or a place for a teen to explore inventing. “Right now as it stands, the very real possibility is that we are going to evaporate, tools sold, space get emptied, a bunch of people that wish they could make this happen again.”