Office space redefined in Downtown

The Hive at 55 was one of the first co-working spaces located in Lower Manhattan. Photo courtesy of the Downtown Alliance

BY HELAINA N. HOVTIZ  |  No longer satisfied with lugging their laptops to Starbucks, Downtowners are turning to Lower Manhattan’s bevy of shared workspaces for a desk to call their own.

When the economic crises first hit, New Yorkers were left searching for alternative self-employment opportunities or a place to continue working independently after being laid off. Originally dubbed “Shared Space Movements” back in 2008, the growing trend offers Lower Manhattan residents working from home the chance to reconnect with the rest of the city.

WeWork has three locations citywide, with plans to open up a fourth in October, but the Grand Street location was the first and remains the least expensive. While the other locations cater to a more youthful set, boasting keg rooms and rooftop parties, site manager Nathan Scott said its 400 members know “this isn’t the party building.”

“The demographic here is a little older and more laid back,” said Scott. “It’s a quiet space.”

WeWork’s Downtown office caters mainly to “creatives” who want a desk enclosed behind glass walls. The only open shared desk space is in the WeWorkLab. People working through the same kind of problems in this first floor space don’t have to go far to trouble-shoot together.

“People will be on a conference call and shout, ‘show of hands, how many of you use your iPhone for Internet four times a day?’ and everyone can just raise their hand,” said long-time member Cory Maass.

“Our goal is to provide space for super early-stage startups to grow from an idea to a company,” said Jesse Middleton, co-founder of the WeWorkLab.

A single desk in a room with up to five others is $425 per month, and a private office for the same can run up to $2,600.  WeWork Lab space is $250 a month.

Weekly happy hours and monthly rooftop parties are part of WeWorks’ appeal, as is the building’s green philosophy.

But nobody is as green as Greenspaces, located at 394 Broadway. It is home to 80 members who share a lifestyle of health and sustainability, from environmentalists to non-profits to a diverse mix of independents that call the energy-efficient space home. Members are not required to have a green job to join, but they do have to share the green philosophy and sign a statement agreeing to adhere to the building’s eco-friendly policies. A full time desk is $550 a month, and open space is $250. Greenspaces does not offer private offices.

Down the street at 412 Broadway is New Work City, one of the oldest co-working spaces Downtown. They too are exclusively open space, evoking the feeling of a large loft. Classes are designed to support challenges independent workers often face, such as structuring a day that’s not 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and balancing current projects while searching for new ones.

Membership is not required, but New Work City doesn’t ask much of its members. According to the website, all one needs to do is “show up, bring some work to do, and don’t be a jerk.”

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Luke Chamberlin, New Work City Manager. “We try to maintain more of a casual vibe.”

The staff doesn’t structure introductions or go betweens. But about 70 percent of members are techies whom, according to Chamberlin, are “easy to get along with.”

Try it for a day at no charge, then consider a Day Tripper Membership that includes four visits for $100, or a Citizen Membership for $300, which includes a dedicated desk and 24/7 access. A single day pass is $30.

Sunshine NYC at 12 Desbrosses Street claims to be “where start-ups grow up” but claustrophobic grown-ups should steer clear.

With sliding plastic doors not unlike those on a Metro North train bathroom, most desks and offices reside behind structures resembling white plastic barracks spanning almost the entire space. The majority of those at Sunshine NYC eat at their desks, and the lounge area is usually empty. Office managers like Austin Andrews help connect members for reasons beyond typical networking.

“If someone thinks they’ll be short on rent, I’ll introduce them to another member that might be able to throw them some work,” said Andrews.

Sunshine NYC members are unique; one of its oldest is a woman who staffs “shot girls” at local bars. Known as “Shiners,” they can work in either of the company’s other two locations in NoHo or Astor Place.

A “Think Tank” grouping of 4-5 desks start at $375 per person, and the “Partner Solution” for a 2-person team starts at $425-a-piece. A one-person private starts at $525 a month, though most expensive option is barely bigger than a walk in closet. Co-Working space is $275 a month for 24/7 access.

Finally, there’s Hive at 55, located at 55 Broad Street, comprised of a single floor of open space that sees plenty of sunshine. There’s a fun but professional vibe at the Hive, and they uniquely offer use of conference rooms for free. Membership is available on a month-to-month basis; twelve visits per month costs $200, full-time access is $300, and 24/7 access is $450.

One of the first to arrive Downtown, the Hive picked up on the tremendous interest in creating more permanent shared spaces in Lower Manhattan.

“I think we will continue to see this trend grow as the way in which people work continues to change,” said Hive director Daria Siegel.