Real Estate - Commercial

Coworking Spaces Adapt To Coronavirus Shifts

By Cece Nunn and Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jul 8, 2020
Coworx is continuing some operations at its space off Queen Street in Wilmington. (Photo courtesy of Coworx)
The COVID-19 pandemic has left offices empty as people work remotely, but operations and plans progress for some coworking spaces in the Wilmington area.

In downtown Wilmington, the creation of 22,000 square feet of coworking space continues in the historic Gaylord Building at 226 N. Front St. 

East West Partners, the developer of nearby mixed-use project River Place, announced plans in February for the Gaylord Building's coworking endeavor, a partnership with Texas-based coworking firm Common Desk.

"We're aiming for an early 2021 opening," said Megan Kaye Marti, Common Desk's head of marketing, in an email this week.

The construction hasn't experienced much of a delay; December 2020 was the original target date for moving tenants in, said Lucien Ellison of East West Partners. Leasing outreach is expected to begin by around September or October.

Ellison said that because Common Desk has existing coworking spaces in other cities, there's an opportunity to identify what mitigation factors, building features and/or safety protocols work best to enhance sanitation, satisfy workers and ease the overall comfort and confidence in a shared working environment for the Gaylord Building.

"As a result, there is an opportunity to implement best practices here, based on what has worked elsewhere, as relates to the pandemic," Ellison said in an email.  

The actual floor plan and arrangement of offices are still being determined.

Wilmington coworking space and startup incubator tekMountain, 1844 Sir Tyler Drive in the Mayfaire/Landfall area, recently sent out a notice to members about transitioning to a virtual setting. Citing the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the area, tekMountain officials said the space will remain closed for the foreseeable future.

But the firm is partnering with Genesis Block, a coworking and collaboration space being developed in downtown Wilmington.

Genesis Block is still positioning to have a late summer or early fall opening, said Tracey Newkirk, who along with her husband, Girard Newkirk, founded Genesis Block.

The Newkirks have leased the second floor of 5 S. Water St. for Genesis Block. The space is nearly 4,800 square feet.

The group involved in Genesis Block is pushing its online content and platform on top of working on launching its coworking space, Tracey Newkirk said.

“Our model is more like an entrepreneur academy and collaboration space, so a lot of our platform is going to be providing online ... resources for entrepreneurial development and growth and to develop small businesses,” Girard Newkirk said.

The area is intended to be smaller than the typical coworking space and geared toward creating more of a community vibe, he said.

“So for us the shift in what’s happening in the coworking space, it more aligns with the design and frame that’s supporting … small businesses and entrepreneurs and with organizations that are community-based,” Girard Newkirk said.

A lot of Genesis Block’s resources and platforms are going to be located online, including seminars, classes, workshops and training. 

“Although we have pivoted some as far as expediting the setup of our Business Block Entrepreneur Academy, the things that are happening nationally kind of coincide with our business model,” Girard Newkirk said.

“For the most part, our strategic goal and what we came to accomplish as far as the opening, we are pretty much on target. We shifted our model a little bit earlier back in April when things started to happen. We began to expand and develop the tools … for our Entrepreneur Academy,” he said.

A lot of the work is going to have a digital platform, and on top of building up the Genesis Block physical and digital platform, the Newkirks – through the cowork initiative – are also developing the technological application and platform for its BlackBiz Listing.

Another coworking space, Coworx at 1608 Queen St. in Wilmington's Cargo District, is open now to current members and is allowing new member rentals for closed-door private office space, said Ashley Arnold, Coworx's community manager.

"We are also accepting day passes by appointment only. We have and will continue to follow all CDC guidelines by keeping social distance, using face masks when that is not an option and promoting frequent hand washing. Capacity has taken a dive for sure and while we would love to increase membership, keeping our community safe and healthy is the biggest priority," Arnold said. "It is hard to know how long we will be in this current state; we are doing our part in keeping our facility clean and taking it slow as we introduce new members into the space."

The coworking space closed during the initial shutdown this spring but then reopened again for its essential businesses.

"We were able to open the facility for them," Arnold said. "While we did limit operations, amenities and staff, allowing each business to make their own choice on whether they would work from the facility or home was our approach."

Coworx will continue to create private, functioning working spaces and work to meet certain guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

"As long as we all work together and adhere to these guidelines, we will continue on as is. The Cargo District as a whole has done a great job expanding outdoor areas like the courtyard in the Outpost," Arnold said. "Our members here at Coworx now have the opportunity to venture out and use these other spaces in the neighborhood, which in turn will allow for better social distancing practices."
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