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Coworking space could foster more business in Bristol

BRISTOL — Would small business owners and entrepreneurs with startup plans be willing to work in shared office space in downtown Bristol?
Leaders of the downtown business advocacy group Bristol CORE think so, and they’re reading plans to offer such businesses space that trades some level of privacy for space that is less expensive and may foster collaboration.
“By creating a coworking space you create a different environment than what you would have by just renting a single office,” said Bristol CORE Executive Director Ian Albinson. “Even if it’s an office in a space that has a shared community kitchen or shared social space, you still have an office where you walk in and maybe half of those doors are closed. Here you walk in and you see people immediately. A coworking space would increase Bristol’s vitality as a place to work.”
Bristol CORE is a group of area business people, property owners and community members committed to increasing and maintaining the economic vitality of downtown Bristol. It takes its name from the “CO” in “community” and the “RE” in “resources.”
The nonprofit is now investigating whether there is significant enough interest amongst local professionals for the co-working space. It has its eye on a potential spot: the first floor of the Trading Post building on Mountain Street. And it has initiated discussions with building owner John Moyers.
Phoenix Rising has been Moyers’ anchor tenant at the Trading Post ever since he purchased the circa 1900 structure and had it essentially rebuilt from the ground up over a decade ago. But Phoenix Rising will move its Bristol office and yoga training center to western Massachusetts at the end of the year.
The building has 3,500 square feet of commercial space on the first floor (Phoenix Rising’s current home), plus four apartments on the upper floors.
“It’s this unique opportunity where we can work with a great guy who happens to be the landlord of this building who’s willing to support this venture if we can prove that it might be a viable thing for Bristol,” said Albinson.
Moyers is interested in the coworking proposal, he said, but would like to see enough interest and commitment on the part of the community to know that the venture is fiscally sound and feasible. He’s also weighing the merits of going for a more traditional tenant: ideally a single business that could rent the entire commercial space.
“It’s easier to wrangle one tenant than say 30 or 40 tenants,” said Moyers. “But I also am so attracted by the overall concept of coworking and by what it might offer Bristol that I’m certainly willing to go towards the coworking option if there’s a response in the community that supports it.
“I’d love to hear from people through Bristol CORE or directly about their thinking on whether it would suit their needs and if so whether they might find it attractive and commit to it. That’s going to make the difference in the next four or five months in deciding what path to go down.”
GET YOUR ‘HOT DESK’
As envisioned by Albinson and Bristol CORE Board Chair Carolyn Ashby, professionals could opt for three kinds of workspace, each with its own price tag. The least expensive option would be a “hot desk” — a term borrowed from the naval practice of assigning bunks, or “hot racks,” on a rotating basis (“hot” because the sheets might still be warm from the previous occupant). “Hot desk” users might pay $50 a month and have access to a seat at an open table or workspace.
Next in price would be renting one’s own desk, defined in an area with its own partitions. Desks would be lockable. This option might cost in the neighborhood of $175 a month.
The third, and most expensive, option would be a small private office with lockable doors. These would rent for around $300 a month.
The coworking space would offer:
•  High-speed Wi-Fi
•  A printer
•  Two or three conference rooms
•  ADA-compliant bathrooms, at least one of which would include a shower
•  Kitchen
•  Lounge area
Renovation would also include creating a public reception area off of the entrance facing Mountain Street. This front part of the commercial space would include the conference rooms (that could be booked by coworkers), kitchen, bathrooms, and a lounge area for coworkers. The larger part of the commercial space toward the rear of the building (the area now used for yoga training) would be converted to the coworking space per se. This area would have its own entrance off the rear parking lots, as it does now.
Other amenities would be nearby and wouldn’t need to be duplicated, said Albinson and Ashby. For example, Kimball Office Services on Main Street is mere steps away from the Trading Post and already offers extensive photocopying, printing, scanning and other services. A number of eating options are around the corner. Deer Leap trails are a quick walk up Mountain Terrace.
A coworking space would offer a number of advantages to local professionals, said Albinson and Ashby:
•  Affordable workspace
•  A dynamic work environment that fosters interaction and builds community
For the town itself, the two see it as a way to make Bristol more attractive to young professionals, especially, by offering the kind of workspace typically found in more urban communities. A coworking space in the Trading Post building would bring more traffic to downtown. And because the least expensive rentals would be in the neighborhood of $50 a month, the space would be a business incubator for Bristol.
“First you can afford a $50 desk,” said Ashby. “Then you get a business plan and you upgrade to that desk. Then you upgrade to an office and then you start having employees.”
“You move to BristolWorks because Kevin Harper has space over there,” added Albinson, filling out the vision. “And then you move to the (proposed) Stoney Hill business park because now you’re a larger business. And through all that time, over all those years, you’ve stayed in Bristol and you’ve kept people in Bristol, in the local area, employed. And you haven’t moved away.
“Having a space like this where you have this energy, I think, is like the next step for Bristol. We’re looking for better economic development in the town and this could be a big part of that.”
For individuals and the community alike, a local coworking space also offers a way to avoid the time, expense and pollution of commuting — something many Vermont towns are grappling with as they look to their town energy plans.
As part of envisioning whether a coworking space is right for Bristol, Albinson and Ashby have visited and/or been inspired by different coworking spaces around the state including Burlington’s Karma Bird House, Hinge and Study Hall, and Montpelier’s Local 64.
A coworking space in Vergennes’s historic Kennedy Brothers building opened in January 2016.
NEXT STEPS
Moyers and Bristol CORE have agreed the next step is for Bristol CORE to find enough interested parties to get the idea off the ground.
To  take Bristol CORE’s coworking survey, go to http://tinyurl.com/jw92nz8. Albinson can be reached at [email protected]. Moyers can be reached at [email protected].
If the idea seems to be feasible, Moyers would then create the business structure needed. Phoenix Rising will continue to occupy the building in 2017, offering workshops this summer and fall. Renovation would likely begin in early 2018, with the coworking space ready for occupancy in spring 2018.
Albinson and Ashby stressed that they are now looking for local professionals interested in working with them on envisioning how the coworking space could be put together. They’re also looking to see how many individuals are willing to commit to a chunk of workspace. The two calculate that they would need around 26 committed renters, ultimately, to get a coworking space off the ground.
Especially important, they said, is for folks to take CORE’s online coworking survey, which they are using as the first step in gauging community interest.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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