Monday, October 15, 2018
Business

Coworking is spreading fast across Tampa Bay as people trade the cubicle for the cool and creative

The heydays of the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office job may soon be behind us. With more people freelancing or working for themselves in the rising gig economy, and big corporate companies offering more work-from-home positions, there's a big need for a workplace beyond Starbucks or the living room couch.

Welcome to the boom in coworking spaces. They are shared office spaces for independent workers. And they are likely to become a much bigger part of where Tampa Bay's future workforce will call their "office."

More than a dozen coworking spaces are in full swing and plenty more are popping up from Pasco to Brandon to Tampa and St. Petersburg. They are also destined to play integral roles in high profile redevelopment projects, like Strategic Property Partners' revival of downtown Tampa and the Heights mixed use project north of downtown Tampa along the Hillsborough River. In downtown St. Petersburg, the Station House coworking space has 150 members and counting, and already plans to open a second nearby location on Central Avenue. Part of the 17-story "BB&T," or First Central Tower, at Central Avenue and Fourth Street recently decided to convert traditional tower office real estate to coworking space.

Some coworking spaces are open only to creative types, like graphic designers, photographers and artists. Others are tech-centric — downtown Tampa's Tampa Bay WaVE or St. Petersburg's TEC Garage are prime examples — and serve as hubs for startups. But most are open to anyone who wants to pay a monthly rate for a desk, a chair, Wi-Fi and a printer.

Price and amenities vary from place to place. They can range from $10 a day at SMARTStart in Dade City to $125 monthly memberships at the swank, 500-member Commerce Club located upstairs at Tampa's iconic Oxford Exchange, and even up to $350 a month at the HUB in Clearwater that comes with the extra perks of concierge service and a private business address.

"We've had everyone from young entrepreneurs who are trying to invent a new app to real estate agents who use the conference rooms as a place where buyers can close on a house," said Vance Key, the food and beverage director of the Oxford Exchange, which houses the Commerce Club coworking space. "I think people like to be around constant action and noise. They can take a break here and go downstairs. Or they can talk to other club members. It keeps them engaged throughout the day."

"It's evident from our membership numbers that it's as popular as ever," Key said, noting that some local businesses use the Commerce Club as a staff retreat to get out of the office for a day or two. "It's a very collaborative atmosphere."

The number of coworking spaces has exploded in recent years. There are more than 160,000 people who have a membership at one of more than 3,000 coworking spaces across the globe. That's up from 20,000 workers in just 500 spaces from 2010, according to a report by DeskMag.com, which releases an annual survey about coworking spaces. The survey predicts that another 10,000 cowork offices will have opened in 2016 alone.

And more are coming online in Tampa Bay.

When Strategic Property Partners begins construction on new office buildings in downtown Tampa, at least one building will be specifically for a cowork environment, said Ali Glisson, spokeswoman for the real estate company owned by Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment.

"The demand exists. We can see it in the Channel District and downtown already where more and more residents are working from home or running startups. They are already seeking out the spaces where they can work and meet with clients throughout the day," Glisson said. "We think the demand will only continue to grow, particularly as the thousands of new residential units come online — throughout the urban core. We believe there's a natural attraction for coworking space — as there is with more traditional office tenants — to locate near cultural destinations and retail amenities."

The Heights, which plans to open the recently renovated Armature Works building near Water Works Park next year, will feature a cowork space above an open food hall.

Shannon Carlton learned about coworking for the first time while listening to a podcast more than a year ago.

"It was an episode talking about a cowork place in San Francisco just for women," said Carlton, who lives in the Brandon area. "I had to know what this was all about. So I researched it, and decided this really fits with who I want to be when I grow up."

So Carlton, a mother of two who previously worked for a community newspaper for more than a decade, decided to launch her own cowork space in Brandon. Cowork Landing opened two months ago.

The 1,500-square-foot office already has 10 active members. They range from a construction contractor to a professional with a doctorate who helps graduate students write their dissertations. She said her sweet spot would be 30 members. Membership starts at $75, and perks include yoga classes, training classes for time management and other workplace topics, plus free parking.

"This is just how I want it. We're located right in the heart of Brandon, and there's nothing really like this in the suburbs," Carlton said. "I feel like we were being left out of the entrepreneurial spirit. But there are entrepreneurs all over the area, not just in Tampa."

Coworking space is not just for millennials. Katie Pemble can often be found at Station House in downtown St. Petersburg working on her own startup: management consulting firm Baldwin Pemble Advisors. Pemble is a veteran banker, most recently serving as Florida market president of C1 Bank before it was sold this year. She says Station House, with its ceiling-suspended working tables, is a stimulating place to work and is convenient to her home.

When Sarah Orner moved back to Tampa after several years away, she struggled to find a job. To make ends meet in the beginning, she cobbled together a bunch of freelance writing jobs but found herself distracted working from home. So Orner, 29, joined CoWork Ybor in the heart of Ybor City.

"It gave me more work-life balance," she said.

Fred Mastropasqua and Edmund Gorski started their software company, ClearlyAgile, from the desks they rented at CoWork Ybor.

"As our company started growing, we realized we needed to create some kind of workplace culture," said Mastropasqua, president of ClearlyAgile. "It was hard to learn the kind of work we do from home." He said they liked the laid back, but creative, atmosphere there. Plus CoWork Ybor is attached to the Blind Tiger Cafe, a perk for meetings and for free drip coffee.

They started part-time, working from the shared office space on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City two days a week. After six months, their company had grown so much that they rented an upstairs office.

Being part of the cowork environment also led to new business for ClearlyAgile, Mastropasqua said. "We met a guy who worked in a totally different industry who needed software developed," he said. "It was a great place to network and collaborate."

That's exactly what Roberto Torres had in mind when he opened CoWork Ybor in late 2014. He has about 100 members, from food truck operators to writers, and already is looking for a place to expand.

"It very quickly went from being just a business setting to a social one," Torres said. "You don't have to leave when you're done with work." He chose Ybor City because he said the work-live-play aspect is important. The nearby restaurants and nightlife scene is just another amenity.

On an average week day, there are about 15 people working in the CoWork Ybor space, he said.

"Half the workforce works for themselves these days," said Torres, who is an entrepreneur himself. He owns the Black & Denim clothing brand and the Blind Tiger Cafe. "It's not a fad. It's here to stay and more people are becoming aware of it."

Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

     
     
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