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Thursday, Mar 23, 2017

Community Innovation Center takes a slightly different path

— A public-private partnership to create a 10,000 square-foot center for tinkerers and entrepreneurs has crumbled, but the idea it sparked is alive and moving forward.

The John F. Germany Library, located at 900 N. Ashley Dr., Tampa, will host an open house on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. to showcase what is now called The Hive.

The concept was initially introduced as the Community Innovation Center and hailed by the nonprofit group Learning Is For Everyone (LI4E) as a place for entrepreneurs to move from great idea, to design, to prototype and business plan. The Hive, instead, will be more of a community space, said Renelda Sells, manager of learning experiences for the public library. It will include space for entrepreneurs.

It became apparent by late spring that the library and LI4E had different goals for the space, said Hillsborough County Public Library Director Joe Stines.

While the library has an open-door policy for all to use its facilities, LI4E apparently wanted to make the space more for the use of hand-picked individuals and groups, Stines said. He called a meeting in early June to discuss his concerns with the non-profit’s directors, but before the meeting took place, LI4E filed papers to terminate its cooperative agreement with the county, Stines said.

“It seemed LI4E was moving more toward an entrepreneurship operation and less on the maker space. That had been the topic of the meeting. We are the public library and we’ve spent $150,000 of your library tax dollars to get the center up and running and open to all. We think they wanted to go in a different direction.”

Jaime Klingman of LI4E explained it this way. “It wasn’t conducive to the community environment we were looking for. Just because of the nature of that space, physical access to it was very difficult. And the library has a lot of restrictions. They have restrictions in place that we were not aware of.”

“The library has always made resources available to make (entrepreneurship) happen,” Sells said, and it will continue to do so. She said County Administrator Mike Merrill made it known a couple of years ago that he wanted the county’s libraries to become incubators for small businesses. Sells said that can happen at The Hive, which provides a 3D printer, space for creating and computer programming, a room for video and music production and a large area for robotics, among other uses.

The Hive is already open by appointment to various individuals and groups, said librarian Megan Danak. A grand opening is scheduled for October.

Saturday’s open house will feature demonstrations of the various uses The Hive offers, Danak said.

“It is public creative space,” she said. “It is creation for creation’s sake and the ability for people to take their ideas to the next level. Libraries all over the country are embracing the maker movement” and Hillsborough County libraries are no exception, she said.

“Sharing what we do is one of the most important things about the maker movement,” said Chuck Stephens, a self-proclaimed maker who works as a volunteer at The Hive and with Eureka Factory, a “community-driven innovation” group started here by Terri and Steve Willingham. He said The Hive allows people to do that.

Terri Willingham also was a founder of LI4E, but recently left the group when its director “took it in a different direction,” she said.

The Hive is not just for adults. The high school robotics group, Team Duct Tape, was there this week working with a robot they entered last year in state competition.

“We use this space for coding and sharing, working together on robotics,” said 17-year-old Sickles High student Daniele Mendez.

The space is also used for training in computer-assisted design. “It gives the students a place to practice their robotics and work on coding and design,” Willingham said.

“I think this place is really cool,” said 16-year-old Marissa Schiereck, who is home-schooled. “I’m used to working in a garage.”

For now, The Hive is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. “We anticipate this is going to be a popular space” and more days and hours could be added in the future, Danak said.

To reserve time or group space in The Hive, visit the library calendar or call (813) 273-3652.

yhammett@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7127

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