Tami and I just returned from the Plant, where we had an evening of Charette 2.0.
A “charette” is an exercise. It is part brainstorming, part listening, part dialog. Tonight we gathered with a collection of brilliant people, all stakeholders in the Plant in some way, and we discussed what the project might look like going forward.
The last time we did this was in 2004. At the time we had 20,000 square feet of buildings filled with possums and covered with poison ivy.
Tonight it was a delight to revisit the idea.
Unlike seven years ago, tonight we fed our guests. We have formed a newfound connection with the coast of North Carolina, and today Willy and Feather from Full Circle Crab Company shipped us a box of oysters, shrimp, scallops and flounder. For weeks we have been devouring bounty from the coast, and tonight was no exception.
Jeff from Green Door Design kicked off the conversation by describing his new “red block” building project that he is going to call “Dig.” He’s importing a machine from Texas to make an alternative to cinder blocks made out of local clay and sand. He already builds houses in the area, so this is a simple extension to his business. He’s merely going to change his building material to a local source.
Gabe explained his strategy for growing micro-greens in a greenhouse fed by effluent from Mike’s aquaculture project. They are working together to bring a new greenhouse operation online.
Rachel talked about her new research endeavor, which among other things is focused on alternative uses for crude biodiesel glycerine.
Andy spoke at length about the distillery we are opening in Building 4. He is a successful local vintner of Benjamin Vineyards fame, who is eager to start producing spirits with integrity, using among other things, local wine as feedstock for ports, sherries, cordials, and brandies.
Ray talked about his desire to open a bicycle repair shop on the project. We have the space. And the skills. And the passion to help people with bicycle maintenance.
David is the newly minted massage therapist who has just taken over the “Office of the Future.” The former home of Abundance is now a massage studio.
Doug talked about the transition for Piedmont Biofarm.
As a group we discussed the grand vision for the place—about how the Plant is a hub for transportation, food, and manufacturing. We discussed signage, and the concept of assembling a “Main Street” of the future.
The notion that we are located on Lorax Lane surfaced a number of times. Tim quoted the classic line, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Some of us remember that as the last line Rachel delivered in a recent speech she gave at the NC Biotechnology Center.
One of the intriguing threads was about the evolution of the Plant coinciding with the evolution of Pittsboro. There was a suggestion that we connect to town with a bike trail and try to create something that compliments the town rather than competes with it.
Tim introduced the group to the concept of the “Sacred Third.” That’s rooted in the notion that when two people unite a “third” is created that needs to be nurtured, acknowledged, and fed. And he likened the Plant to the same thing.
Businesses unite in a place, and in doing so we create something larger than ourselves. Something that needs to be recognized. At the same time, we need to put energy into figuring out how the place can feed the individual enterprises.
There were thirty people in the room. When Katy called for a break, dozens of conversations broke out. When we reconvened we talked about how everyone is focused on the “what” and the “how” but how we frequently neglect the “why.”
It was pointed out that in the last iteration of the plant we had tenants that imported lots of Styrofoam cups and Hardees drive thru trash.
It dawned on us that if we could get clear on the “Why we are doing this” up front with everyone on the project we could avoid the Dominoes boxes and Big Gulp cups from clueless Plant denizens.
Mike had the last word on the evening, suggesting that we visualize a newspaper article written about the Plant on February 1, 2020. It was a fascinating concept, that I believe was introduced by the folks at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor.
I’m guessing we are not done with this conversation.
As people trickled back to their previously scheduled lives, a bunch of us reassembled the kitchen. After all, there is a cheese making workshop scheduled to take over the space.
In general we were enlivened. Amazing ideas filled the evening. We had spent the night in the company of visionary, powerful people sharing their visions of what could be.
It was an excellent re-beginning.
I for one am looking forward to a new era of tenants with integrity, that I can reflect upon during my onsite massage…