Craft Business Accelerator: where community-minded developers meet local makers

September 29, 2015 | Laurie Bailey | NEXT Pittsburgh

Entering the model of Mosites Company’s new Eastside Bond Apartments in East Liberty, visitors will notice contemporary clean lines, open floor plans – and beautiful glass pendant lights, suspended like jewels from the kitchen ceiling on a backdrop of stainless steel and stone.

Custom-made by local glass artists at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, the pendants represent the first in a pipeline of projects by Bridgeway Capital’s Craft Business Accelerator (CBA). The goal of the CBA is to foster relationships between real estate developers and local craft businesses like glass blowers, ceramicists and wood workers, ultimately boosting the local economy—and giving exposure to local crafters.

“The term ‘locally sourced’ is a real buzz-word right now,” says Adam Kenney of Bridgeway Capital who is a glass artist. “Any time a developer can differentiate his property from one down the street by locally sourcing the finished work, it’s going to help them have an edge in a very competitive market.”

Within the next six months, the CBA will have infrastructure in place for an online hub for developers to submit requests for proposals and for craft businesses to display their unique products. For local craft artists like those at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, this initiative will provide a means to market to developers.

“Our whole philosophy on development at The Mosites Company is to find the intrinsic value in every site we develop. The community and the people who live and work there are a core source of value, and the challenge is finding ways to harness their industry and talent,” says Mark Minnerly, director of real estate at The Mosites Company.

It’s already a plus for the Pittsburgh Glass Center. “People are aware of us, and we will get phone calls sometimes . . . but they’re really happenchance. (The CBA program) is much more intentional, instead of just sitting back and waiting for people to come to us,” says Heather McElwee, executive director of the center.

“It’s these kinds of opportunities that make the difference,” says glass artist Lyla Nelson, one of six artists who created the pendants. She works several jobs to subsidize her glass making career. “If glass makers are going to thrive, we need more jobs like Eastide Bond. There have been little opportunities here and there, but finding them has been a constant challenge.”

This initiative allows her and countless other local talented crafters to contribute to and benefit from new Pittsburgh construction.

While the program is quite new, “The Glass Center has really been a pioneer in terms of figuring out what this looks like,” says Kenney. “The role of CBA is to establish a marketplace and to figure out what the challenges and opportunities are.”

For the Eastside Bond Apartments, approximately 200 pendant lights—each valued at about $50—were created over the summer. (The first building with 115 units will be available by November, according to Christian McCague, leasing agent for the site.)

“We initially met with architects and folks from the project and looked at a lot of the different colors and the design for the space,” McElwee says.

After initial sketches and samples, it was the artists’ job—working in teams of three on the actual blowing, color and design details—to make the lights as similar as possible.

“Most of the time when we’re working with clients, they really want them to look handmade so they aren’t measuring them to the quarter inch,” offers McElwee. “If you looked in the kitchen they would look very similar,” she says of the finished project.

And although it only took about half an hour to make each light, it took these seasoned artists years of training to perfect their skills, she notes.

“The good thing about working with a local craft business is they can see your budget and they can see your design goals . . . and that’s the work the Glass Center has done in working with Mosites,” Kenney says.

“The program made the process easy for us. We were able to stick to our budget and get a handmade lighting fixture that will add to the uniqueness and character of the residential units at Eastside,” says Minnerly.

In addition to this project, a team of glass artists is currently working on 80 lights for the Penn Mathilda Apartments on the border of Garfield and East Liberty for ACTION Housing.

Look for more community-minded real estate project to unfold within the next three months, says Kenney.

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Laurie Bailey: lebailey@windstream.net