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Developer says his hub of shared workspace could help spark downtown Clearwater

From left: Project manager Janelle Branch, construction supervisor and building manager Tom Hires, and real estate developer Daniels Ikajevs (holding his dog, Lily) stand on the third floor of the Bank of America Building, 600 Cleveland Street, in downtown Clearwater in October 2017. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times files][
Published Apr. 22

The entire third floor of downtown's One Clearwater Tower is gutted, pipes exposed, and has been sitting empty for 15 years.
But come spring, real estate developer Daniels Ikajevs plans to have it transformed into Tampa Bay's latest coworking venue, a growing model of office space where small businesses and entrepreneurs ditch the cubicle and work communally.

Called the Ring, an ode to Ikajevs' love of boxing and aim to foster a fighter's mentality in entrepreneurs, the space is pitched as a hub for young professionals and business types in a health-focused atmosphere - not exactly what downtown Clearwater, peppered with its empty storefronts, is known for.

That's where Ikajevs, who bought the 11-story office tower anchored by Bank of America in 2013, sees the potential.

As city officials attempt to revitalize the business and retail district, Ikajevs said he's creating an environment where entrepreneurs can grow, network and be persuaded to stick around with their successes.

"It's about a new identity in the downtown area," Ikajevs said. "We have to find that new beginning and we want to do it with health, being eco-friendly and sustainable. This is not the answer to it all, but it's a start."

He plans to begin construction on the Ring in November and have the $1.8 million in renovations completed by March. And on Monday the Community Redevelopment Agency board, which is made up of the City Council, will vote on whether to award Ikajevs a $600,000 grant to help with the effort.

Pushed by a changing economy and technology that has freed employees from a sedentary 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the coworking concept has ballooned over the past decade, reaching 15,000 coworking spaces globally today, according to Liz Elam, an industry expert and founder of the largest international coworking conference.

The spaces give small businesses and independent workers an alternative to working at home or in the bustle of a Starbucks. Memberships often include access to amenities, networking opportunities and the chance to work alongside like-minded businesses.
"Working from home sounds super awesome unless you're there with the UPS man and crying children and being on a conference call with a barking dog," Elam said. "People are happier, more productive, more engaged and less lonely simply because they're working in a collaborative space."

To develop his concept for Clearwater, Ikajevs and project manager Janelle Branch researched about 90 sites over the past 18 months, traveling to Amsterdam, Denmark, London, Stockholm, New York and Austin to observe different approaches.

They saw trendy layouts and hip aesthetics but knew they needed their own identity. To pair with the goal of fostering a thriving business hub in a depressed downtown, the idea of health and wellness will permeate all aspects of the Ring from light fixtures to the furniture.

The design includes an abundance of indoor plants for fresh air, antimicrobial blinds, ergonomic furniture, standup desks, a sleeping pod for rest.

Weekly networking events will offer kombucha and water instead of beer and wine. Ring staffers will collect data on carbon dioxide levels and analyze how air quality impacts work performance.

"Everything has its own purpose," Branch said. "We want you to be physically healthy and to be able to take on the challenges of the external environment and be able to win in the workplace."

Like most coworking models, members will pay by the month for access. Lower levels offer first-come, first-served desk space and organic coffee and tea in the kitchen while higher levels get members assigned space, private suites and rights to enter the Ring.

This centerpiece will be an actual boxing ring where, once a year, members will have the chance to pitch business ideas to venture capitalists and investors brought in by Ikajevs. Shark Tank-style.

"It doesn't take much to build a workspace but ours is more based on a science," Ikajevs said.

Tampa Bay has jumped on the coworking trend, with varying concepts targeting tech firms, startups and other niches in business communities.

Since opening in downtown St. Petersburg in early 2016, the Station House coworkspace has drawn about 200 members, from lawyers, financial advisers and marketing firms to creatives and others who just need a desk and a Wi-Fi connection, said owner Steven Gianfilippo.

Station House members get access to workshops on investing and finance, plush chairs and desks, rooftop yoga and a spot in a trendy, 1911-era building turned into office space.

"You pack a lot of talent into one small, dense area and good things happen," Gianfilippo said. "We're really creating these microcities in a sense in the workspace. It's a permanent change in philosophy in how we work. If you're going to put in 15-hour days, it doesn't feel like work if it's more of a lifestyle environment."

Ikajevs said he's aiming for the Ring to play a role in the revival of downtown's perception. As the city has struggled to recruit daily activity to the urban core, Ikajevs has pushed harder, buying the office tower, Waters Edge condo building's retail floor, five storefronts on the 500 block, and other parcels in the downtown core over the last several years.

"I'm a true believer in downtown Clearwater, and I've shown that by investing in downtown heavily," he said. "When I look at the Ring, I do see it as a business destination. It's not just office space for downtown but it's a business hub for the entire city."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.

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