Co-working center coming to Santa Rosa

Places entrepreneurs or remote workers can share office space have been sprouting up in North Bay cities in the past few years, and now downtown Santa Rosa is set to get a big investment in the co-working trend.

The vacant first floor of The Press Democrat building at 427 Mendocino Ave. is being renovated to replicate the look, vibe and amenities of popular co-work providers in San Francisco, according to Pauline Block, head of marketing for building owner Cornerstone Properties. The goal is to have 10,000 square feet of office space ready for subscribers to use by sometime this summer, followed by about 8,000 square feet in Petaluma.

'The LAC (local assistance center) was a proof of concept for this, and that was established in a few days,' Block said.

On Oct. 14 a local assistance center opened in that space to help victims of the wildfires that raged through Santa Rosa less than a week earlier and would be still burning in four North Bay counties throughout the month. The center was a hub for fire victims to seek help from 43 county, city, state and federal agencies, 17 nonprofit organizations, and building industry groups.

The plan for the co-working space is to tweak the current floorplan that accommodated a couple hundred people at a time meeting at multiple tables around the space for the LAC. Changes include new flooring, lighting and furniture.

What's coming is designed to be a mix of open seating, shared or dedicated private offices, farm-style shared tables, dedicated or shared desks, lounge seating, and seats in cafés. That is similar to what's found at large-scale co-working-space providers like WeWork, which has 230 locations across 71 cities and 21 countries, including 15 Bay Area sites in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Mountain View and San Jose.

'We're taking ideas from the larger ones and adapting them to the North Bay,' Block said. Company officials insisted that the Santa Rosa and Petaluma locations won't be 'cut and paste' adaptations. Cornerstone has been setting up test co-working arrangements at 1435 N. McDowell Blvd., in the Petaluma office building that's the operations base for its 25-building North Bay property portfolio.

Like WeWork and a number of existing North Bay co-working spaces, the Cornerstone spots are set to have fees based on a monthly subscription model, with flexibility on the terms. Rates have yet to be determined.

Co-working has exploded in popularity in recent years. The number of sites grew from about 600 in 2010 to an estimated 14,000 worldwide by the end of last year, according to a recent report by Green Street Advisors, a Newport Beach-based commercial real estate research firm.

An appeal of the co-working spaces is to provide the coffee-shop convenience but in an environment focused on work and with the potential of energizing collaboration with people from different industries. So co-working spaces typically offer high-speed wireless data connections, quick coffee or tea refills along with the potential to book time in private rooms for client meetings or sensitive calls.

Downtown Santa Rosa has had a smaller co-working center since 2011: Santa Rosa Share Space at 533 Fifth St. It is operated by Local Works, which also runs the Made Local Marketplace across the street at 529 Fourth St.

One of the newcomer co-working facilities in the North Bay is VentureHub, based in 3,850 square feet of downtown San Rafael top-class office space. A year after opening, revenue from conference room rental and memberships is reaching the break-even point, according to Alejandro Moreno, vice president and co-founder.

'Rent here is brutal — $12,000 a month,' Moreno said in an email. But seven new member signups, set to start using the site in early April, will help the company close that gap, he said.

Green Street Advisors warns that co-working spaces might become too successful, the Wall Street Journal reported. As large companies shift office workers from headquarters or regional offices to co-work location, that could cut into demand for office space by 2 percent to 3 percent by 2030. And lease terms for large companies can be six months to five years in co-work, versus up to 15 years in large offices, a researcher at the firm told the paper.

Jeff Quackenbush (, 707-521-4256) covers the wine business and commercial construction and real estate.

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