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Downtown Phoenix joins national co-working trend

[Source: Jessica VanZalen, The Arizona Republic]

Jenny Poon is operations manager of eeko studio and the CO+HOOTS communal workplace in Phoenix. Photo credit: Michael Schennum/The Arizona Republic

Jenny Poon says the co-working trend is starting to pay off for her.

Poon is the operations manager of CO+HOOTS, a place where people can come together to share office space, rent and even snacks. Independent workers who used to work from home or crowd coffee shops with their laptops are now seeking office-like spaces where they can focus, collaborate and be more productive.

“There are so many distractions in a coffee shop,” Poon said. “You can people-watch and start to get off track.”

With eight new members signing up since the July opening and a stack of eager applicants, Poon’s company is already turning a profit.

CO+HOOTS is part of a national trend that’s just getting a toehold in the Valley. It started in 2008 when the economy tanked and people started launching small businesses. Communal co-working sites popped up as a way for people to have offices without the overhead and risk of renting one alone. Some are open to workers in any field, and others target specific types, such as freelance writers, photographers and Web designers.

About 250 co-working centers are operating nationally, according to Emergent Research, a California-based small-business research company.

What are these places?

The co-working movement started in the Valley in 2007, when Chandler’s Gangplank communal workspace opened.

Downtown Phoenix got into the game this summer with CO+HOOTS.

“We really depend on smaller businesses to help the city grow, and this space can help that,” said Poon, 27.

Most co-working sites bring independent workers together with desks, a community table for collaboration, Wi-Fi, mailboxes and conference and break rooms. Membership and costs vary to make sure that overhead is paid. Acceptance processes vary to make sure that those who share the space will mesh, like at CO+HOOTS, where applicants go through a trial period as “drop-ins” to ensure the space is home to only entrepreneurially spirited, creative workers.

These buildings also serve as on-site community meeting spaces.

Owners organize guest business speakers, seminars on such subjects as social networking and nighttime happenings like open-mike nights and community concerts.

At CO+HOOTS, the cost to rent space is about $350 a month for a “lite” membership, securing a desk, a lock box and a key to the building. Poon said the space is large enough to handle 20 lite members and up to 15 drop-ins who work at non-reserved desks for $10 a day.

What’s it like to work there?

The space at CO+HOOTS feels like a college study room for the cool kids: a large, open room with several sleek metal desks scattered about.

In 1926, the building was the first grocery store downtown. The interior now reflects its adaptive reuse with exposed brick walls, local art and near-floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Seventh Street south of Roosevelt Street.

Desks and leather couches are comfortable and movable so people can create their own work zones in this cubicle-free anti-office, allowing users to create a little privacy or collaborate more easily.

Web strategist Matt Clower enjoys playing workplace DJ and looks forward to the daily “recess” time when everyone chats and plays games that include chair races across the space.

Group critiques and help sessions make everyone’s work better, he said.

What he most enjoys is bringing clients to his office.

“They get to see the energy of the place, that there’s a bigger picture to the creative process, and there’s something about the environment of being around other people,” he said.

What is the future like?

The setup doesn’t work for everyone. Some workers can be intimidated by the lack of structure, the need to constantly self-start and the fact that newcomers have to work to become part of an established community, Charland said.

Co-working spaces shoulder the overhead and startup risks so the independent businesses in them don’t have to.

And that means they sometimes fail even if the businesses within flourish.

Drew Tyler opened BetaLoft in Salt Lake City in June 2009 because he saw the city was saturated with freelancers working at cafes and homes. After nine months, Tyler closed the space because he was losing money.

Workers in sprawling Salt Lake City were less willing to drive to the space, he said, and “there was also more overhead than I think we could handle.”

CO+HOOTS faces similar challenges: renting space to a group of creatives in an area known for suburban sprawl. To counter that, Poon is targeting workers who live within a 10- to 12-mile radius of the office and limiting membership to downtown Phoenix residents.

So far, so good, she said.

Tyler said co-working spaces should thrive as a younger generation moves into the workforce.

“The culture of co-working is counter to ‘working for the man,’ ” he said. “There is a different age group and demographic coming up that is going to do their own thing.”

Membership at CO+HOOTS

Full members: The cost is $650 per month. Full members get two designated desk spaces, two keys to the building, a lockbox, access to the meeting rooms and use of the entire CO+HOOTS space for three events each year, based on a one-year contract. They may also bring an unlimited number of guests to CO+HOOTS on a “guest pass.”

Lite members: The cost is $350 per month. Lite members get a designated desk, a key, a lockbox and access to the meeting rooms. They may bring in an unlimited number of guests on a “guest pass.”

Drop-in members: The rate is $10 per day for the hours of 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Drop-in members occupy desk space wherever it available. They may prepay five drop-ins and get a sixth free or prepay for 10 and get two free.

Location: 825 N. Seventh St., Phoenix. (map)

Contact: incohoots.com, 623-252-3356 or jenny@eekostudio.com.

More photos of CO+HOOTS can be found HERE.

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Why Gangplank didn’t locate in downtown Phoenix

[Source: Derek Neighbors, Gangplank, December 19, 2008] — People often ask why we didn’t locate in downtown Phoenix when we moved Gangplank.  I always try to be polite with my response (or usually I do).  However, the truth is because we feel that downtown Phoenix is dead.  It has been for a long time.  Twenty years of pouring money into it hasn’t changed much.  Now before you go and label me a hater (which I am), I will say that I worked for nearly ten years at the heart of downtown.

While I remain in love with the concept of a vibrant downtown, those ten years taught me that our downtown is a lost hope.  It is bustling with people from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, but then it turns into the proverbial ghost town.  Light rail or billions of dollars in cash infusions won’t change this.  Adding skyscrapers and professional sports arenas certainly hasn’t.

The problem is Phoenix is where people from high rent places like Chicago, California, etc. come to own a piece of the American dream (land/home ownership) or from the mid-west where rural (space) is a way of life.  The people dwell by choice in our suburbs.  In order for downtown Phoenix to not be dead, it has be inhabited by the people currently choosing the edges. I don’t see this happening on a scale large enough to make an immediate difference.

So back to Gangplank, there is a myth that if you centrally locate you attract a large base of the greater community.  The problem is downtown Phoenix has NO PEOPLE, making it effectively the center of “bullshit and nowhere.”  West or East side residents have little interest in driving 30 to 50 miles nor do North or South residents, when the destination is nowhere.  Metro Phoenix is now big enough that picking a side actually yields better results than picking the uninhabited middle.  Yes, I’m sure I have pissed several people I respect off by now, but signs that the current movement is failing yet again are written all over the wall.  This economy is not helping.  Both the USA Today: “Pain on Main Street: Timing proves bad for Phoenix” and Arizona Republic: “Developers scale back $900 million CityScape project in Phoenix” ran articles on the subject lately.

While there are many locals that remain hopeful like Sam: “Deserted After Dark” and Tyler: “The State of Downtown Phoenix…”  Let’s face it, when a downtown ambassador employed by merchants to assist visitors, says he often sends tourists to Scottsdale and Tempe when they ask about night life. Then states, “It’s a ghost town.”  That’s a pretty strong sign that there are serious problems with the current formula.  I love metro Phoenix (including its downtown) and I hope that I am wrong, but as of now I’m not willing to gamble my money on it.

Before you respond… Do you live in downtown Phoenix?  If not, why?  If so, do you have a spouse and kids?  For now I would classify downtown approx. 19th Ave to 24th Street between Thomas and Buckeye (16 or so square miles).  [Note: To read the full blog entry and comments, click here.]