Coworking spaces in St. Pete were nearly empty, echoing rooms during the pandemic as foot traffic was limited. Now, however, those empty seats are quickly filling up.
Coworking spaces have a mix of private office spaces with open areas to encourage collaboration. Many have a unique and modern aesthetic and feature shared workspaces, communal kitchens, and playful swings or hammocks that appeal to millennial entrepreneurs. However, it’s the flexibility of coworking spaces that is truly a differentiator, especially during the height of the pandemic.
“Now because companies are saying there’s no need to fully come back to the office, people want their own private office more so because the dynamic has changed,” Rising Tide Innovation Center Director Matthew Hanlon said.
The innovation center is located at 433 Central Ave. in the historic McCrory building and occupies two floors. Like most coworking spaces, there’s a mix of private office suites and open seating.
The center recently gained new members hailing from Texas, Boston and Colorado.
“We see a lot of self-made entrepreneurs, but we’re also seeing people from big companies who can now work from wherever they want,” Hanlon said.
In general, coworking spaces are an attractive option for early-age startups due to the tiered pricing for various membership offerings and not instituting a long lease as traditional office leases are structured.
With the uptick of people working remotely, a new type of membership at Rising Tide was born out of the pandemic.
“A lot of people went down to what we call virtual desks or no desk time at all, but that’s changed,” explained Hanlon. “After people started coming back, we saw this need of two people of the same household that just wanted to get away from working at their kitchen table or home office so we created a new membership.”
The new membership called “the galley” is tailored for two members of the same household who want to come to the Rising Tide building on alternating days.
Today, the center is 99% full with the latest addition of a second floor, the buildout of which was paused during the pandemic.
“Everything stopped. We couldn’t do anything, but once everything eased up, we completed the work and opened the second floor in March,” Hanlon said. “I was scared at first that when we opened that second floor it would be empty for a while – and here we are and nearly all the offices are full.”
The influx of newcomers played a significant role, as well as other factors.
“Many people closing their businesses so our leaders, attorneys Tina Fischer and Leigh Fletcher, told members to pay what they can pay to stay afloat during the pandemic,” Hanlon said about how the organization financially weathered Covid-19.
The founders allow certain members to have one free hour of legal consultation per month. With their legal expertise, the founders were able to guide members on the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] process that thousands of companies were applying for throughout the pandemic.
An executive at Thrive DTSP, a nearly 30,000-square-foot coworking space at 136 4th St N., echoed similar comments.
“We’ve seen an influx of people moving from big cities who incurred that expense and stress of living in those larger cities,” said Thrive DTSP Operations Director Brooke Beeler.
“This is an ideal coworking space for people who could work from home but feel uncomfortable being in a coffee shop or traditional open space,” Beeler said.
Unlike the standard coworking spaces, Thrive offers more private office suites. There are a total of 91 offices inside Thrive.
Thrive is home to 45 businesses such as Codeboxx Technology Inc., a Canadian company that trains people how to become web, app and software developers. The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and Greenhouse collaboration of the Thrive Center is also housed at Thrive DTSP.
“Once we started getting past that hump [the slowdown during the pandemic] and most people received both vaccines, that’s when we’ve seen things take off,” she said.
Station House in downtown St. Pete also pivoted during the pandemic and is now fully functioning.
“During the pandemic, we did not do any tours or accept new members,” said Campus Director Sabrina Rivera.
Station House is a 30,000-square-foot, century-old building that was converted from a fire station and hotel. The coworking space at 260 1st Ave S. has five floors, three of which are coworking and office spaces.
The members at Station House also have access to the coworking building Hyde House in the Hyde Park Village in Tampa.
“We did see offices spaces dip, but I expect it to fully come back because of changes from the traditional workspaces,” Rivera said about both spaces.
Station House opened its third floor several months ago, which houses private offices and is already completely occupied. The group is currently working to find a new tenant for the basement, the site of a shuttered Japanese restaurant.
Across the bay, nonprofit startup and innovation hub Embarc Collective was facing construction delays on its new 32,000-square-foot center in Tampa, which eventually opened in January 2020 – only to close due to the pandemic.
“In June, we started to reopen with rigorous safety protocols. What’s interesting is from March 2020 to March 2021, we doubled our members from 40 to 80 and today we are serving 100,” Embarc Collective CEO Lakshmi Shenoy said.
“We did not charge members to use our resources … we were doing whatever we could,” she said.
Embarc, structured as a nonprofit, was able to look for other avenues of funding, Shenoy said.
The organization did not pursue PPP money, but like Rising Tide, it did help startups in the PPP application process.