Fab Lab Moves Downtown as San Diego Sets Out to Create its Own SoMa
A redevelopment plan to create a “Makers Quarter” in downtown San Diego’s upper East Village is beginning to come into focus with the arrival of Fab Lab San Diego, a nonprofit DIY workshop that supports entrepreneurs, offers classes, and provides fabrication services.
The San Diego Fab Lab, established in 2007 as part of MIT’s Global Fab Lab Network, has been setting up shop in an enormous warehouse on the downtown corner of 14th and E Streets. It is one of the first tenants to move into the six-block Makers Quarter, a project just south of San Diego City College that has been at least three years in the making.
“We’re really excited about this downtown zone, which has been given this identity as being supportive to makers,” says Katie Rast, co-founder and director of Fab Lab San Diego.
The Fab Lab will continue to offer such classes as “Intro to Electronics” and “Intro to 3-D Printing.” But the downtown space is much bigger than what FabLab had previously in the Ansir Innovation Center in Kearny Mesa, and Rast is anticipating some new business opportunities. She says they are renovating a 3,200-square-foot corner of a one-time furniture warehouse. There is enough extra space to sub-lease space to local entrepreneurs, and to provide them with access to Fab Lab’s “geeks in residence,” tools, and production equipment.
As a nonprofit, Rast says, “We’re a little more focused on community,” and in recent years, she says she has sought to cultivate more extensive ties with San Diego’s startup ecosystem and to help fill a gap in their manufacturing needs. When a group gets funded through Kickstarter, for example, Rast says Fab Lab can help entrepreneurs work through their first few steps of ideation and prototyping. Rast also wants to establish closer ties with manufacturers in nearby Tijuana, which would enable startups to move more smoothly from making sample products to producing 1,000 units or more.
By staking an early claim in San Diego’s emerging Makers Quarter, Rast also sees an opportunity to help establish a new hub for “maker” startups and to welcome businesses with a social conscious into the neighborhood. “There is a lot of brain power and good intentions in designing this area, and in laying the foundations for what it will become,” she says.
Fab Lab represents “a powerful symbolic tenant” for the Makers Quarter project, says Stacey Lankford Pennington, an urban planner working on the Makers Quarter project.
The Makers Quarter was conceived as a key element in the development of a broader, mixed-use “I.D.E.A. District” (Innovation, Design, Education, and Arts) that encompasses a 35-block downtown neighborhood better known as an inner city refuge for San Diego’s homeless. Developers say they have drawn inspiration for the project from the success of other urban innovation hubs, such as SoMa—San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood—and Seattle’s South Lake Union area.
While downtown redevelopment continued in the years after San Diego’s new baseball stadium, Petco Park, opened in 2004, the East Village “was kind of where development stopped when … Next Page »