Scarlet Ponder

Heights CDC to convert vacant cabinet shop to community woodshop

By Published: April 09, 2019 9:40 AM CT

In an economy where the construction industry is struggling   to find enough skilled workers, the Heights Community Development Corp. (CDC) hopes to provide youth and residents with woodworking skills that are in high demand.

The Heights CDC, a nonprofit that focuses on issues like housing development and blight reduction, is developing a wood shop in the Heights neighborhood – an area between Tillman and Graham streets to the east and west, and Jackson and Summer avenues to the north and south – where community members will be able to take classes and produce independent woodworking projects.

Classes could begin as early as May.

“It will create another space for people in the neighborhood,” said Jared Myers, executive director of the Heights CDC. “A space to work on projects they might not have space to work on at home, or use tools they might not be able to afford to purchase.

“It could also be an opportunity for entrepreneurship, to sell things they make, and for people to be able to work with their hands and learn new skills,” he said.

The Heights CDC purchased the property on National Street to house the Heights Line Design Studio. The nonprofit chose the site primarily because it’s near the future location of the Heights Line, a redesign of National Street between Summer and Bayless avenues to incorporate a trail and greenspace.

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Midsouth Millworks operated on the property from 1980 until the doors closed in 2012, shortly after the owner, Eddie Davis, died. His wife, Linda Davis, held on to the vacant property and its equipment until it was purchased by the Heights CDC in September 2018.

There are three buildings. The Heights CDC converted one, originally a barbershop, into an art gallery.

A second building, at 761 National, houses the Heights Line Design Studio, as well as a 1,200-square-foot workshop and storage space. Next to the workshop, at 751 National, is a 2,800-square-foot metal millwork building ready for its next phase.  

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After purchasing the property, Myers contacted several local cabinet makers to learn more about the tools acquired with the property. The initial idea was to sell the tools and convert the metal building into offices and meeting spaces.

But when Trevor Knight, owner of Memphis Millwork, asked to lease the building to expand his operations, the CDC agreed. “This way we can get revenue from leasing the space, and there’s also an opportunity for workforce development, which lines up with the Heights CDC goals," Myers said.

The lease includes a community benefits agreement (CBA), under which Memphis Millwork agrees to work to employ people from the neighborhood.

The lease with Memphis Millwork also drove the plan to clean up the remaining workshop and open the space to the community. Woodworking classes could expose middle- and high-school students to skilled trades like construction and cabinetry.

Bridgetown Ventures, co-founded by Nathan Cook, an advisory board member for the woodworking shop, is a potential partner organization. Cook hopes to teach woodworking classes in the soon-to-open space.  

Myers said the CDC plans to offer basic woodworking classes within the next few months. Classes will be advertised on the Heights CDC Facebook page and website

The advisory board will travel to Birmingham this summer to visit Magic City Woodworks, a company that teaches woodworking and provides employment training to young men. Magic City Woodworks started in a garage, and now places dozens of people each year in paid internship programs.

“In an increasingly digital age, physical, tangible, concrete artifacts are still of value,” said Michael Gong, an advisory board member who teaches at Kingsbury High School. “They’re the things that sustain our lives in a real practical way. The way that we have warmer, safer structures to live in, all of those things are important, and they don’t exist without some people taking up trades.”

This story originally appeared at High Ground News, Memphis’ source for neighborhood reporting. Sign up for the newsletter here. 


Heights Community Development Corp.

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