My name is Kenny Paone, and I'm the founder of Sanctuary Huntsville. I grew up in Southeast Huntsville, graduated from Grissom High School, and went to Calhoun in Huntsville for two years before moving to Florida to pursue my dream to work for Disney. After working for Disney and realizing that it wasn't my dream after all, I moved back to Huntsville in 2016, met my beautiful wife Katy in 2017, and in the middle of a global pandemic, started Sanctuary HSV in 2021 to serve manic makers like myself.
The Sanctuary Story
Sanctuary is meant to be exactly that; a safe space for creatives, artists, do-it-yourselfers, and makers of all crafts. It wasn't always that way though. The original Sanctuary HSV was... a mini golf course?
You read that right. The idea of Sanctuary started off pre-pandemic as an interactive family entertainment experience that focused around mini golf. You can even find remnants of old prototype putters tucked away in the shop. Obviously, God had other plans. The COVID-19 pandemic hit, and within hours nobody wanted to touch anything, let alone a putter that 100 other people had touched earlier that day. So, it was back to the drawing board, or in my case; back to Blue Plate Cafe.
A few friends and I met regularly on Saturday mornings at Blue Plate, and often found ourselves talking about Sanctuary. Well, as the pandemic lightened and Blue Plate reopened, we began to meet again. One lucky morning, we were gathered around eating breakfast when Sanctuary co-owner Charles looked over at an empty building with a large sign that read 'FOR LEASE'. It looked small, but we looked it up and the listing said that the building was over 8000 square feet and included the lot adjoining the building. We had to see for ourselves. I called the agent, and he showed me around the absolutely enormous building. It needed some work. Lights were hung wonky, there were crates of printing supplies left behind from the previous business, and it all needed to be cleaned BADLY. The building had been abandoned for over five years, but we were ready to turn it around.
Charles, Teresa, and I mulled-over the options of virtual reality to keep the mini golf idea alive (thinking that we would emerge from the pandemic soon). Those didn't work, and we did not come out of the pandemic in a timely manner. Better safe than sorry, but the testing and prototyping that we had to do gave us the idea. What if we built a prototyping facility? We had issues finding a well-equipped place that would allow us to do prototyping for a project that would ultimately turn into a business. That's when it hit me.
Back in Florida, there were nearly a dozen Makerspaces around where I lived. One for carpentry, one for automotive, one for sewing, one for screen printing, one for laser engraving and 3D Printing, and one for welding and blacksmithing etc. Each one would cost $20-35 each, but not all were 24/7, and not all were in the same general area. Some were on the complete opposite side of town from the other. What if we could combine them under one roof?
That's how we got where we are today. We made the plans, reorganized the layout for the space, setup purchase orders, signed the lease, set phased opening dates, organization goals, legal paperwork, and in February of 2021 Sanctuary HSV opened its first workspace. The carpentry shop only had a handful of Home-Depot tools at the time, but members signed-up. By the end of 2021, Sanctuary HSV had 67 members. Now, Sanctuary has over 260 members and counting!
We've come a long way. The building still needs some work, but members keep coming with dreams, ideas, and projects that we help them complete. And that's what we are here for.