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Old BiWay will welcome 'creative nomads' of all shapes and sizes

Artist/entrepreneur unveils ambitious plans for downtown building; 'There will be a lot of collective energy,' says artist of 'affordable' and 'user-friendly' space

To paraphrase the W.P. Kinsella classic Shoeless Joe, Anitta Hamming firmly believes if she builds it, they will come.

The local artist is harnessing her entrepreneurial spirit as she works towards re-purposing a long-vacant downtown store into a two-storey gem of creativity and shared workspace through a membership-based business offering called Creative Nomad Studios.

“I want it to be user-friendly and affordable for members, but also create a business model that will sustain itself,” Hamming said. “There will be a lot of collective energy.”

Major renovations will begin shortly on both floors of the building that once housed the city’s BiWay discount store. The goal is to create a space that aspires to become “the best place on earth to be a creative entrepreneur and innovator.”

That seems like a pretty heady mission statement, but Hamming is confident the project will prove successful with not only artists, designers and photographers, but also writers, entrepreneurs and, perhaps, even real-estate agents who don’t need a permanent office, but just want a space to meet clients that’s not a coffee shop.

“I have a small studio space, but wondered where do people do these things in Orillia,” she said. “Orillia has this huge creative scene.”

Hamming signed a 15-year lease with the building’s owner to develop her vision.

“I did a lot of research to determine if something like this works in Vancouver, will it work in Orillia?” she asked. “I also met with different groups and asked them ‘would you use this space? If I build it, will you come?’”

She plans to be open this fall in the newly-renovated space that’s designed to bring together the city’s ‘creative nomads’ under one roof.

“It’s a great space and is on one of the most prominent blocks in the city,” she said, noting that the Orillia Opera House and Orillia Public Library are just across the street. “I’d love it to be open by October, but it may be November. Some of it’s out of my hands (ie city permits, inspections, etc.).”

With prices ranging from the basic membership of $25 a month for one-day access during regular business hours (9 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week) to $750 for a dedicated, closed office space with access anytime, there’s likely an option to suit every need.

There’s also a day-pass, non-member option costing $25 as well as a dedicated retail space available for $825 monthly and dedicated open studio space available for $385.

And since the plans are considered memberships and not lease payments, members need only provide a 30-day notice should they want to leave after an initial three-month stay.

But besides providing a workspace, members also receive free business internet, free coffee and tea, lounge and kitchen space and access to a boardroom, locker storage, full printing services, a caterer and event planner.

Members also get special rates on meeting and event spaces, promotional opportunities, networking and community, free consultations with experts, access to extensive business partnerships, meet-ups and special events. Members can also opt-in to a shared health and dental plan.

Hamming expects the venture will support the incubation of diverse creative and social enterprises, which will collectively build a stronger more resilient artistic, creative and business community.

She also plans to add a commercial lift to ensure the entire building is wheelchair-accessible.

To bring her project to fruition, Hamming has worked closely with city officials, including the city's real estate and commercial development manager, Laura Thompson.

Hamming is seeking various grants from the city. The first falls under the Downtown Tomorrow community improvement program and could mean a maximum $15,000 contribution with the second involving the city’s facade improvement grant program that could yield an additional $7,500.

“It was developed to stimulate development and growth in the downtown core,” Thompson said, referring to the Downtown Tomorrow grant.

“Her project is perfect because it’s been a vacant space for many years.”

As well, Thompson noted Hamming’s project falls well within the type of uses identified by the city’s recent retail-mix study for the downtown that included arts and culture as a potential, sought-after focus area.

“It fits very nicely with the target businesses we’re after,” she said, pointing out the city also likes that the project brings together like-minded community business organizations and entrepreneurs to create an organic incubator for potentially sharing ideas.

“Even though they’ll work separately with the shared workspace, it’s almost like facilitated serendipity. Anitta, herself, is a very strong collaborator.”

For more information, visit the facility's website.


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Andrew Philips

About the Author: Andrew Philips

Editor Andrew Philips is a multiple award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in some of the country’s most respected news outlets. Originally from Midland, Philips returned to the area from Québec City a decade ago.
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