The Hive: Downtown Tampa’s amazing new 10,000 square foot makerspace


When I moved from Accordion City (Toronto) to Accordion Bay (Tampa Bay), one of the things I knew I’d miss was Hacklab (pictured above), the hackerspace located in Toronto’s so-hipster-boho-it-hurts Kensington Market. It was a meeting place, a library, a software and hardware workshop, and a creative space where I participated in discussions, workshops, and just plain hanging out, worked on both professional and personal projects, discovered new ideas and made new friends. For someone like me, who’d much rather make something than passively veg out in front of the TV, Hacklab was a joy to find, and I worried that I wouldn’t find something like it in Tampa.

01 the hive sign

I discovered on Wednesday night that I was terribly mistaken. Not only are there makerspaces in the Tampa Bay area, but there’s a monster-huge one right in the heart of the city. It’s a well-equipped, well-maintained 10,000 square feet of space, and membership and use of much of its equipment is free — all you need is a library card! It’s called The Hive, which occupies the third floor of one of the buildings of Tampa’s John F. Germany Public Library.

Here’s a map of The Hive:


Click the map to see it at full size.

The Hive is hosting an open house this Saturday, November 15th, 2014 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., where they’ll be celebrating Andrew Carnegie’s birthday, talking about his vision, and showing off their newly-opened makerspace. If you’re in the Tampa area and have been looking for a creative space that’s freely open to the public, you should check it out.

welcome to the hive

My friend Aris, whom I met at the same BarCamp where I met my fiancee, invited me to a meetup of Tampa Bay area creatives, where we’d get a tour of the space and talk about future plans. When I entered the library and made my way to The Hive, I was expecting to find a small, under-utilized room and not much else. Instead, I exited the elevator and stepped into a large expansive area.

“How much of this place is The Hive?” I asked the librarian at the desk, in an appropriate-for-the-library hushed voice.

“All of it,” making a 360-degree motion with his finger. “This entire floor is The Hive. And you don’t have to be quiet here.”

02a makerspace

Here’s how The Hive is described on, the international listing of hackerspaces and makerspaces:

The Hive is a community innovation center at the main branch of the John F. Germany Library, the main branch of the Tampa Hillsborough Public Library System. The Hive consists of 10,000 sq. ft. of creative space that includes a Robotics Center, Arts Center, Entrepreneurial Center with 1500 sq. ft of flexible meeting space, a hands-on mechanical and electrical workshop and a FabLab. The space is free to use, with some materials and other related fees.

I’d arrived in time for the start of the tour, where we were shown The Hive’s facilities, which included the workshop:

02 workshop 1

See those two boxes along the back wall? They’re MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printers, which were printing some of the designs made by participants in the 3D printing class.

03 makerbot

For the moment, it doesn’t cost anything to use the 3D printers; I think you just have to be participant in the class. I’m going to have to sign up for one of them soon.

They had some of their 3D-printed works on display, including this iPhone case…

04 3d print

…this gear-like sculpture…

05 3d print

…and this figure, made up of assembled 3D-printed parts:

06 3d print

Over at another table were a handful of electronics projects based on Arduinos, which are microcontroller circuit boards on which you can base all sorts of electronics projects:

07 arduino can

This was an interesting Arduino project: the cat’s heart glows with an LED light until you pull on its tail, which upsets it, resulting in a lot of electronic cat noise.

08 arduino cat

Here’s what the project looks like from the back:

09 arduino cat back

There will be more gear coming as well, including the nearly-set-up CNC mill shown below, and there’s talk of getting a laser cutter as well.

14 cnc mill

There’s also plenty of space and tables to work on projects of all sorts…

10 workshop

…plenty of space…

11 workshop

…and when I say plenty, I mean plenty…

12 workshop

There’s also this other workshop, on the other side of the floor:

yet another meeting space

The workshop is for all sorts of work, from paper and cardboard masks like the ones on the workbench below, to wood, plastic, and metal to sewing. They’ve got two sewing machines with all sorts of stitching, embroidery, and fonts programmed in, and they’ll be hosting an “intro to sewing by way of making cosplay costumes” course in the new year.

13 workshop

The Hive’s center area is a large space for people participating in various robotics classes and competitions, including the FIRST Robotics Competition (which I wrote about on my tech blog, Global Nerdy):

15 robotics

Of course, makerspaces are nothing without places for people to sit, meet, discuss, plan, and exchange ideas. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of space to hold discussions, host meetups, or various “Camp” style events here, as there’s this meeting/presentation space…

16 meeting space

…and this meeting/presentation space…

17 meeting space

…and this meeting/presentation space:

18 meeting space

Our gathering broke out into a couple of smaller discussion groups, with half of us taking a meeting space to talk about the Tampa Bay Creatives Alliance and what they wanted to do next, while the other half gathered in the audio/video studio to talk about music and video projects. I could’ve easily participated in both breakouts, but since I wanted a closer look at the music and video gear, I joined the group in the studio.

If you don’t have the money, equipment, or recording space, The Hive’s studio comes equipped with:

  • A new iMac with iMovie and GarageBand, the full Adobe suite (including Audition, Premiere, and After Effects), as well as open source applications such as Audacity
  • A decent set of Yamaha powered near-field monitors
  • At least one decent microphone, stand, and headphones
  • 49-key music keyboard controller
  • Mixing boards and compressors
  • Lights for shooting video
  • A video camera and other gear that I didn’t see, tucked away in a storage closet

…and all you need to use it is a library card and an appointment. You can book the place for up to two hours at a time.

19 studio

The back wall of the studio is painted so that it can be used as a green screen, and there’s more than enough software on the iMac  to do effects work:

20 studio

Here’s a view from the other side of the studio, which should give you some idea of its size:

21 studio

The Hive is brand new, and as part of the public library, it’s there for the benefit of the public. It’s open when the library is open. You can work on projects and hold meetups there as long as they’re open to the public, and it’s all free of charge to use, save for the cost of materials (such as the plastic for 3D printing).

computer lab

What The Hive evolves into will largely be determined by the people who use it. Rather than try and guess what kinds of people will come to use the space and how they’ll use it, the folks running The Hive have wisely chosen to observe the usage patterns and make the appropriate additions and adjustments.

I think The Hive is an example of what libraries can provide and what they can evolve into in the age of ebooks and ubiquitous internet. By providing spaces where people of all economic backgrounds can meet, share information, collaborate, and build projects, they can continue fulfilling their mandate to act as storehouses of knowledge and learning that people otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

I think I’m going to be hanging out, holding meetups, and even doing a couple of recording sessions at the Hive very soon.

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