Changing market conditions and the whims of the working public have opened the floodgates for a new type of office environment that is sprouting up throughout Leesburg and greater Loudoun County. Coworking spaces are becoming some of the most desirable places to rent a desk, launch a company, or even just find a place away from home but still avoid a dreaded commute. Torge Dennen had originally purchased the 880 Harrison St. property, which included an office built in the late 1980s as the headquarters for Loudoun Water and later used by the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, with the vision of retrofitting it for apartments or condos. But, “it seemed like an opportunity so ripe for something like office,” he said. Dennen and his business partners are renovating the 30,000-square-foot, three-floor building and looking to open the doors of the new venture, called Blockchain, by late January. And they want to offer the workers who make their way to Blockchain as many amenities as possible. A fitness room, along with a yoga and stretch lab studio, can be found on the lowest floor, right next to a kitchen that will make fresh cookies and croissants daily. The main floor social area will have games and a coffee bar, and Blockchain will even have its own coffee blend developed by a local roaster. The building also has a bitcoin mining nest, the proceeds of which will be used to host social events. Hot desking spaces—desks that are not assigned—plus private and shared office space will be available, and companies can even have their space custom built for them. Coworking spaces are becoming more popular, Dennen said, because it takes a lot of the burden of setting up an office off a company’s hands. “Small companies don’t want to mess with long leases or furnishing things. They just want to work,” he said. As an added benefit, the building is located in Leesburg’s HUBZone. Businesses that locate in a HUBZone are given preferential treatment for government contracts by the federal government and many coworking spaces throughout town have quickly filled up because of the opportunity. XCYTE, at 131 Fort Evans Road, opened last summer and already has all nine of its offices and 19 out of its 22 desks spoken for. XCYTE’s CEO Devin Henderson created the company, located down the hall from his DH Technologies, to help others trying to start their business or gain their HUBZone certification. “We’re trying to create a space where people can collaborate,” said Jessica Farlow, XCYTE’s community manager. Collaboration is just as much of a selling point for the area’s coworking spaces, as often companies with both similar and divergent interests find ways to work together or share ideas or insight in a space’s common areas. Flexibility is also a desirable selling point for many companies or individuals to use coworking spaces, as very often leases are shorter than for renting a traditional office space. Robert Matheson and his father Charles launched their Evolve coworking concept in Leesburg in 2016. At their property in the Waverly Park office center, the Mathesons were excited to get in on the coworking game, and quickly filled up with more than a dozen active members. But not long after their grand opening, they were approached by a business that wanted to lease the entire fourth floor of the building, where the Evolve coworking space was located, for full market value. So the doors to Evolve closed and the members relocated to other spaces. And yet, Robert Matheson notes, he still receives weekly calls from people in the market for a coworking space. “There is a coworking need in Leesburg for sure,” he said. Plans are to reprise the Evolve concept in Leesburg, also in the Waverly Park area, hopefully by springtime, Matheson said. Some building owners and operators have even decided to retrofit their office spaces to make them more appealing to coworking. The third floor of the 15 N. King St. building overlooking the county courthouse is one example. When a longtime tenant moved out, the owners renovated the entire suite to bring it up to current market standards and then watched it sit unoccupied for the better part of two years. Joshua Cagney said he credits his wife, Nicole Gustavson, with coming up with the idea to reconfigure the space for co-working. “I think we’re positioned well at this point,” Cagney said. “My sense is this is a needed commodity in the Town of Leesburg.” They are currently in the tenant-finding phase for the 3,000-square-foot space. Cagney said he sees a bright future for the coworking market. “What’s appealing for this kind of venture from a commercial real estate perspective is it’s scalable. If I have a 6,000-square-foot space I need to lease out I’m looking for a business that needs to lease out 6,000 square feet or needs to dump a ton of money to split the space,” he said. “But if I have a couple of entrepreneurs who come in and say I need one office now, I may need more, that’s a win-win, a no brainer for a coworking space.” [caption id="attachment_57032" align="aligncenter" width="1000"]
A conference room with courthouse views is among the amenities at a new cowering space at 15 N. King Street in Leesburg.[/caption] Leesburg Junction, another one of the early success stories in the town’s coworking scene, is home to more than 50 small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Its transformed the three-level building at 215 Depot Court, that once housed the county’s Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Department, into flexible space for events, meetings, and offices. Jack O’Donnell, owner of Leesburg Juction, said they’ve seen so much demand for shared work spaces, they’ve recently added more office space. Members can rent designated desks, private offices, or open space—where they can float to sit at any open desks, couches or table tops. O’Donnell said the building’s model allows entrepreneurs or nonprofits to become members and request that they give Leesburg Junction a 90-day notice if they plan to cancel their membership. That concept is less risky for startup and small operations than leasing space for a year or more. “This model takes a lot of the overhead and risk out of the equation,” O’Donnell said. “We really are here to help small businesses and nonprofit organizations be successful.”
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