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Mastercraft to double capacity as it tries to regain startup hub status


A months-long renovation at the Mastercraft wraps up this summer. The building space is set to double with the completion of Phase III. The first tenant is set to move in mid-June.

The Mastercraft, once a hub for startup activity in North Downtown Omaha, is growing quickly and aims to reclaim the definitive title of the center of startup and creative activity.

A renovation, set to finish in July, will effectively double the amount of potential tenant space from the current 40 offices to 80 or 90. More than 400 employees could be working in the building by summer 2015.

The new offices run a mix of small, 450-square-foot offices to more than 750-square-foot spaces and everything in between. Rent will run about 10 percent higher than the average $9-10 a square foot of current offices.

Some have soaring windows and garage doors that lead to patios, while others are windowless but have new “skylight tubes” that capture sunlight and use prisms at the bottom to spread out natural light through the offices. 

The Omaha Chamber of Commerce also is in talks to turn a cavernous tin warehouse area on the north end into a shipping container startup hub with room for about 15 young startups. While those plans are days away from being finalized, the idea is to have the shipping container village be a year-long place for startups to begin before they can either move into the Mastercraft or another location. 

It could help beef up the startup cred after the building lost key startup tenants since it opened in 2009, including What Cheer, MindMixer, Secret Penguin and CAMP Co-working. This summer, Flywheel, one of the few remaining true tech startups, will move to downtown Omaha.

The Mastercraft has shifted to more creative type businesses like graphic designers, videographers and other more traditional small offices like architects, lawyers, engineers and artists.

But Bob Grinnell (above), owner and developer of The Mastercraft, sees a new life starting in July when renovation wraps up. 

The multi-million-dollar renovation includes opening the entire length of the 913-foot long building that comprises 140,000 square feet of office space—the building is 30 feet longer than the Titanic.

But along with new offices comes new amenities, something Mastercraft residents have asked for: more lounges, a small workout facility and shared conference room space.

And some that weren’t asked for, but add character, Grinnell said. There’s going to be a living plant wall (example, right) in the Phase III entrance and a student-run Scooters coffeeshop with potential for a drive thru, too.

The largest conference room on the north side will have mid-century modern furniture from JoyBird reminiscent of what Mastercraft furniture would’ve built in the building years ago and will have room for 35-40 people. Another meeting or common room will hold eight to 10 people with a large standing conference desk with stools.

There will be a 12-by-100-foot outdoor terrace and patio with grass, landscaping and picnic tables, and potential for a B-Cycle bike-sharing rack.

All of it adds to the uniqueness of the building as more and more developments, like ones at 39th and Farnam and Crossroads look to cash in on the trendy startup movement. There’s also other startup activity nearby, like a co-working space at Alley Poyner’s Co-Lab and Straight Shot accelerator’s move to the Wareham building on Creighton campus, blocks away from Mastercraft.


“Is there room for competition? Yes. There’s plenty of room,” Grinnell told SPN. “Maybe it’s not unlimited. If there were 10 more Mastercrafts to pop up then there might not be enough creatives or startups to fill it out, but the last thing I’m going to do is hope we’re the only and final destination.

“We’re a unique destination.”

Grinnell said he will continue to curate the building, hoping for at least 75 percent creative or startup tenants, saying he’s often asked about developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem that there’s not some secret formula.

“I tell them there’s no secret energy,” he said. “I tell them to come look and see the place and come up with their own takeaways.”

The people do help, he said, but he also knows there are deficiencies in the NoDo neighborhood. He said he would love to renovate his other building, the Ashton, on 13th and Nicholas, into more offices and apartments.

“We need more live, work, play atmosphere,” he said. “Restaurants and apartments are the number one thing we need to make this area great.”

Grinnell said when he bought Mastercraft, he could have torn it down and sold the land for a profit years after he bought it, but he wanted to make something out of it, and do it right.

“The typical developer would make it all the same, get a leasing company that doesn’t care what types of businesses are in here, get a management company to oversee it all and leave it alone,” Grinnell said. “I think the Mastercraft would be on a different trajectory if I did that.

“I want a building for people to be proud of. I’ve never said it was the cheapest or the most perfect place, but I think this place is an important part of many people’s businesses. It’s a reflection of themselves. I’m elated to have the successes we’ve had in the building.”

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