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New coworking, makerspace opens in Altavista

See story at The News & Advance... A new coworking and makerspace for all ages has opened in a former fire station in Altavista.

The Spark Innovation Center, which opened earlier this month, offers private office space, a conference room, 3D printers, a laser cutter, large-scale printers, a heat press and wireless internet access.

Renovations began at the 508 7th Street site in 2020 after Altavista on Track, the town’s Main Street group, was looking for opportunities in the downtown area, said Jamie Gillespie, business and community engagement coordinator for the center.

A feasibility study brought about the idea for a community hub for innovation that could serve all ages.

“This center has something for everybody,” she said. “It’s not just office space. It’s not just coworking space. We’ll be doing a lot of things here, so I would encourage people to come in and check it out. We really want this to be something that the community can embrace and find a way to connect to it and enjoy it.”
Gillespie said the 3,500-square-foot center can be accessed daily, monthly or 24 hours a day, depending on membership tiers.

Daily access costs $15, while monthly access is $99 and private offices go for $299 per month. Memberships include rent, utilities, internet access and the use of conference rooms and a kitchenette.

The center has 14 independent workstations in the coworking space and four private offices. The conference room seats 12 people and is fully equipped with TVs, computers and cameras, which Gillespie said is helpful for virtual meetings.

She said there still are pockets of the community that don’t have fast internet access, so the center and Altavista’s Town Council wanted to make it a priority that the downtown area have reliable, constant internet access.

In December, Altavista Town Council approved expanding wireless internet access to all of downtown in December with the third phase of that project bringing access to English Park.

“This is kind of in conjunction with the innovation center opening and being able to provide not only access for our center but also for the community as a whole,” Gillespie said.

Altavista on Track had been looking to do something for about two years that would help the downtown district and considered a children’s museum and makerspace. But Scott Lowman, president of Altavista on Track, said in talking to funders, there was a big push for coworking spaces as economic drivers in downtown areas.

Lowman, a native of Altavista, also is vice president of research at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research and a member of Altavista Town Council.

“But essentially, it was to encourage these coworker spaces in small town downtowns as economic drivers and it can include a makerspace,” he said.

Fellow councilor Wayne Mitchell and Lowman worked together to come up with the concept.

The center is a collaborative effort between the Town of Altavista, Altavista on Track, the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and others.

“We thought about what buildings would work and it turned out that the fire station there next to Town Hall had been vacant since 2004,” Lowman said. “The town owned it, we needed to do the work on it anyway, so we went to Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and got a façade grant, we got a feasibility study funded and got a marketing study and the tobacco commission funded us about $186,000 to get the project going.”
In November 2019, the town votes unanimously to support the center. Afterwards, the USDA provided $100,000 via a rural development grant, Lowman said.

“In total, we raised over $350,000 before we even broke ground,” he said.

The Small Business Development Center based in Lynchburg will be on site once a month to meet with new or existing businesses and ask questions about expanding, reviewing business plans or how to add new products and services.

“We’ll be bringing resources to the south end of the region and making it easier for people in the community to access these programs,” Gillespie said.

She said the center plans to hold classes, community paint nights and host networking events.
She added there will be partnerships with K-12 and higher education in the region such as Central Virginia Community College to bring classes to the center.

“It’s really about what the community wants,” she said. “If the community wants us to hold a jewelry making class, we’ll do that. This is really the community’s building.”

Lowman said Altavista has been an economic engine for Campbell County for a long time and over the last decade, town leadership has committed itself to making it a great place to live, work and play.

“Spark represents Altavista’s business investment, economic development and the future of downtown,” he said.
He added there already are plans for expanding the upstairs of the facility to add for more members and community space.