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Posted: September 01, 2010

Who owns Colorado: Changing spaces

Get out of the cube and into the workplaces of the future

David Lewis

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Offices haven't changed so much over the years. True, few contain roll-top desks and feather quill pens anymore, but so what?

Most all of us still work at desks with our recording implements and communications devices at hand and one eye over our shoulders. Office space remains arranged hierarchically: Ownership and upper-tier employees get privacy, the corner office and the mountain views.

But something new in workspaces is taking hold around the Front Range, such as new workplace pioneer Mickey Zeppelin's TAXI development in River North, RiNO, that is; or Andrew Luter's brainchild the Hive Cooperative; or Jennie Nevin's Green Spaces, coworking at the other end of RiNO by the Ballpark neighborhood, award winner for its Green Route map and producer of the glitzy Green Route Festival in late August.

Breathless yet?

How about Boulder's The Candy Shop, home of the Boulder Green Building Guild, Sustainably Built, Origin Graphic Design, Caught in Her Dress, Keira Ritter Design, Zen Ohm, Daedalus Studio, the Automatic Company and more?

Or Fort Collins' Cohere, Colorado Springs' Enclave, or ID345 in Denver, or YesPleaseMore Denver Pavilions where entrepreneurs Brian Corrigan and Samuel Schimek promise coworking for artists, or the Vault in Louisville, born from the expanding circle of the DaVinci Institute?

So what is the New Workplace? What is "coworking?" Is it really catching on in Colorado?

Coworking can mean lots of things, but it has something to do with entrepreneurs working together in a common space, often in the absence of authority figures, to boot.

Ryan Cross, Web developer and curator of the recently opened Enclave Cooperative in Colorado Springs explains that, "The purpose behind coworking is about the thought of mindshare. It's the idea that I as a Web developer might not be awesome in (Adobe) Photoshop, and if I need to learn a certain technique I might just lean over to the guy next to me and say, ‘Hey, do you have a second?' "

Here, it could be the whole trend kicked off with TAXI 1, the 30,000-square-foot former Yellow Cab headquarters that in 2001 Zeppelin turned into an architecturally friendly, casually avant-garde space with a walkway meandering down the middle and a spacious spot called the Fuel Café.

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"We call it the New Workplace," Zeppelin says. "When we opened TAXI, the opening ceremony was, we blew up a cubicle. We did that because we saw the end of that era - the Era of the Cubicle."

Taxi 2 comprises 105,000 square feet inspired by Dutch architecture and built out in 2007. Today, TAXI hosts more than 40 tenants in a space, and in a mix, designed to get them to mingle personally and professionally.

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"The whole TAXI concept was about creativity. In order to get to that creativity you need an environment that spoke of freedom that didn't have the boundaries on it, where you walk around, talk to people, share ideas and talk about individuality within those spaces," Zeppelin says.

TAXI represents a New Workspace, all right, but it is not coworking per se. Or is it?

One good thing about the term "coworking" is that it is flexible. Coworking entrepreneurs can be profit-driven or nonprofit driven; they can insist or not on points that emphasize the concept's cooperative aspects, such as no-door, no-landlord, no-publicity policies.

The Enclave's Cross is one such purist. By way of example, he has written enclavecoop.com in newfangled HTML5 and CSS3, crippling it in Internet Explorer, which does not support those standards.

The Enclave opened with nine members including Cross, a Web application developer, plus a few Web designers, iphone developers, an artist and cabinetmaker, and others "focusing on technology as a creative art, I suppose," Cross says.

Marketing?

"Word-of-mouth," Cross says, which in 2010 means in March posting a Web page at meetup.com (meetup.enclavecoop.com) holding online get-togethers, then opening a non-virtual site in August.

Asked about making a real marketing splash in the Springs, Cross takes a long pause and says, "It can't be that way. If you do it that way, it turns corporate. It's the same as top-down. It's grass-roots for us."

Coworking spaces essentially fall into a few simple categories. One is "coworking spaces with doors." Enclave, for example, doesn't have doors; Green Spaces has one, for the conference room; yet the Vault does have doors, some to suites and one to an actual vault as befits a coworking space in a former bank building.


Another coworking category is "coworking spaces by theme." A second is "coworking facilities, potentially profitable." A third is "Denver coworking facilities based on a green theme with a branch in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood, an eye on another one in L.A. and a big marketing push upcoming."

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The 5,000-square-foot Green Spaces Colorado falls into all three of those categories. The space opened in late 2009 (as did its New York City site) and today has more than 40 total member/entrepreneurs/businesses.

Numerous coworking places claim green credentials, but Green Spaces takes the idea and runs with it. "Our vision is to forward the sustainability movement globally through widespread local hubs that incubate environmental entrepreneurs," its credo reads.

Co-owner Jennie Nevin also says she and her partner plan to run Green Spaces as a business as well as a coworking environment. New York has broken even on a cash-flow basis, she says, and now it's time to pay more attention to Denver. Here, she plans building a rooftop garden/gathering place, but first is installing solar tubes atop the building.

Nevin plans to expand in other ways - through the Green Route Festival, for one - and to add members.

"It would be cool to have a little more of an alternative energy mix," she muses one late summer day, "and the other thing is the financial part: I'd like to have someone like a VC (venture capitalist) here. Those are the two things we have in New York that we don't have here. But there are here some other kinds of companies that we have that are really cool, really unique, that we don't have in New York.

"That's why we combine these communities," Nevin says. "Because you bring in that mix and you bring in this mix and then suddenly you get more of a full mix, and maybe something surprising, maybe something wonderful."
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David Lewis is a freelance writer based in Denver.

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