Tenants left out in the cold as Makerspace North faces eviction from City Centre

Bettina headshot
Bettina Vollmerhausen is the co-founder and executive director of the Ottawa Tool Library. Photo courtesy Marianne Rothbauer Photography

Businesses in one of the city’s largest makerspaces are scrambling to find new homes after being told last week they had just days to vacate the premises.

Subtenants in Makerspace North, a community hub and startup incubator in the upper bays of the City Centre industrial complex just west of downtown, received notices from the building’s landlord last Thursday informing them they had to move out of the 19,000-square-foot facility by Dec. 9.

“We had no inkling this was coming,” said Bettina Vollmerhausen, the co-founder and executive director of the Ottawa Tool Library, which has rented 1,300 square feet in Makerspace North for five years and is one of more than two dozen subtenants facing eviction.

According to the notice to vacate, Makerspace North is in “significant rental arrears” at the property it has occupied for about six years.

Vollermerhausen said OTL has paid its rent on time to the makerspace’s owners every month. She said she’s tried to contact Makerspace North co-founder John Criswick but has not received a response.

She said she also emailed District Realty, which manages City Centre, to see if OTL could continue to store its collection of more than 2,500 tools at the site until it finds a new home, but her request was denied.

Neither Criswick nor representatives of District Realty replied to requests for comment from OBJ on Tuesday.

Another subtenant, Roderick Costain, has been running his startup, RoCo Industries, out of the hub for almost two years. The bootstrapped enterprise, which makes high-tech siding for homes and other buildings that also functions as solar panels, is now on the hunt for new space just as it’s on the verge of getting its products to market.

Complex production process

“It seriously reduces my capacity to (manufacture),” said Costain, noting the production process requires significant shelf space to store various components of the multi-layered photovoltaic panels as they’re being assembled.

The green-energy entrepreneur said the makerspace offered a cost-effective location to set up shop and commiserate with other founders while his fledgling enterprise found its footing.

“We don’t have a launching pad now,” he said. “I’ll have to figure out something else.”

Other subtenants were in the midst of fulfilling orders on tight deadlines, Vollmerhausen added, and now aren’t sure what they’re going to do. 

“The repercussions are huge,” she said.

"There’s nothing like it in Ottawa. There was a real sense of community."

Vollmerhausen said the tool library, which generates most of its income from membership fees and workshops, already had nearly half a dozen events lined up for December. The non-profit organization is hoping to find a new home somewhere else in the central core, she said, adding several tenants have tossed around the idea of launching a new, albeit smaller, hub of their own for the city’s makers.

“There’s nothing like it in Ottawa,” Vollmerhausen said of Makerspace North. “There was a real sense of community.”

Makerspace North director Adam Wilk told OBJ in January the facility’s operators had spent the previous year subdividing some of the space into discrete cubes for individuals or startups making products from soap to art to furniture. In late 2019, the makerspace recorded its first-ever profitable month.

At the time, Wilk said he wanted to see Makerspace North become more of a community hub for creatives in Ottawa. He said an expansion or a second location was a possibility if the facility continued to turn a profit.