Douglas Yu • Somerville Times • Read the full article here.
Elegant Furniture’s logo is still hanging high on the building at 31 Union Square, even though the paint has tarnished over the past half year. The furniture store was forced to shut down last fall due to a spike in its monthly rent, local media reported.
In about two months or so, this vacant space will be transformed into a shared community workspace, thanks to the recently established partnership between Workbar and the neighborhood’s own master developer – US2, also known as Union Square Station Associates. The partnership was announced on June 16.
US2 was unanimously nominated by Somerville Redevelopment Authority last June to take on the Union Square Redevelopment Project, a project that aims at helping the neighborhood improve its transit and strengthen its infrastructure over the next 20 years.
Union Square doesn’t lack dynamic business ambience at all. In fact, before the Green Line Extension kicked off the construction of the new Union Square Station, this area had prospered with residents and visitors coming every day for its diverse retail and restaurants: Mexican grills, Korean restaurants, cocktail bars, the list goes on.
“Workbar will shorten commutes for freelancers, start-ups, and remote employees,” Stephen Mackey, President of the Somerville Chamber of Commerce, commented. “Workbar’s members and visitors will shop in the storefronts, dine in the restaurants, and help build the daytime street life.”
“If you have more people working in Union Square, the daytime population will make boutique retail more viable,” Mackey said. “Workbar adds great momentum.”
Thirty-one Union Square will be Workbar’s third physical location after the office share company opened Boston and Cambridge locations. Devin Cole, Director of Business Development at Workbar told Somerville Times the partnership expanded beyond its physical spaces.
“We have five partners right now, and the network is growing fast,” Cole said, citing that the most recent partnership with US2 is part of the company’s fast growing network. Cole added that US2 had been part of the Workbar’s membership for about six to seven months prior to their partnership.
“They liked the culture and co-working spirit, and they wanted to bring that to Union Square,” Cole said.
The new 2,500-square-feet shared space is targeted to open in August. When it opens, it will be divided into, but not limited to, several office areas, bench seats, a small cafeteria, and two conference rooms. Two US2 staff members will be working there, including the company’s president, Greg Karczewski, and an as yet to be determined employee. Several other companies will be sharing the new facility with US2 as well.
Cole said the new Workbar space would be smaller than the previous ones, but the company planned on dedicating as much open space to the community as they could. “We think it’s more conducive to the community, and people can build up relationships with each other,” Cole said.
US2, according to Karczewski, hadn’t owned an office space entirely by itself in the past. Ever since US2 took on the redevelopment project, the company had been looking at various office spaces around the area before signing the lease of the ground floor at 31 Union Square earlier this year, according to Karczewski.
The other reason US2 established the partnership with Workbar is because the company stood out in regards to their success in connecting members in the community, creating a certain amount of programming, and making a connection between their operation and the neighborhood, Karczewski explained.
The renovation process for the office space hasn’t started yet. Right now, there are several columns standing in a row, dividing the ground floor. A few fans, lights and a gas pipe hang on the ceiling, which will be removed once the renovation starts. According to Karczewski, US2 hired a local contractors manager, J.J. Vaccaro Inc. to do the construction.
In addition, US2 also contacted Somerville Arts Council and other organizations within the local art community to create artwork for the walls in the new space.
For people who live in Somerville, especially those long-term native residents, fears of being priced out due to gentrification have been mounting. When asked if Workbar might occupy a space that could have been used for affordable housing, Mackey replied, “Somerville has so many residents but still the lowest commercial tax base ($2,577 spent in Somerville per capita during FY15, compared to $4,180 in Boston and $4,888 Cambridge) in the urban core.”
“Somerville must have a commercial tax base to help pay for public works, public safety and public education in all the neighborhoods,” Mackey said. “Somerville needs jobs that reduce commutes. Somerville needs jobs that bring an economic multiplier to the ground level, to the people behind the counters, to the wait staff. Workbar is the right move.”
Karczewski refused to disclose the rental price of the facility, and he said that in all likelihood his company might be able to own its own building in 2018 in another location US2 has been interested in, D2 Block at Union Square.
“There is no parking space around here,” Karczewski said, yet he didn’t think that would be a challenge for Workbar’s clients in the future. “I don’t think [Workbar’s] Cambridge location has parking space associated with it either.” Residing in Waltham currently, Karczewski will soon drive to his new office for work as well. As for the parking issue, he said he would figure it out.
Bill Jacobson, Founder & CEO of Workbar, wrote in the press release, “Our partnership with US2 will allow us to extend the Workbar Network of co-working spaces to Somerville, providing local startups, small businesses and remote professionals the ability to grow their enterprises and collaborate with other entrepreneurs.”
Right now, US2 has put up a couple of banners with their orange logos on the window of their future office, ready to bring this neglected building into its next chapter.