Waco homebuilder Steve Sorrells figured he could create something special in , so he reached out to Mara Hauser, an interior designer from Chicago, to help him connect the dots.
A soiree Thursday afternoon celebrated the fruits of their collaboration, 25N Coworking, a stylish, three-story destination where business people can share space, or not. They have access to private phone booths, meeting rooms, relaxation areas, lockers, adjustable chairs, office machines and 75 offices seemingly of every shape and size, all well appointed.
Sorrells and his team, which included another Hauser company, Workplace Studio, spent two years turning a historic bank building and the neighboring Strand Theatre space into a 50,000-square-foot location for professional office space and 25N Coworking. During a tour Thursday, Hauser said about 20% of the 23,000 square feet 25N offers had “sold” prior to the grand opening, explaining she does not use the term “lease.” By the time the get-together ended at 7 p.m., that percentage had increased, Hauser said.
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Sorrells said he has inked deals on space elsewhere with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate, “which has about a dozen agents here,” American Guaranty Title, Taylor Counseling Group and the Dunham & Jones law firm.
“We’re well on our way to finishing up,” Sorrells said. “We still have a vault available on the third floor, and where the trust department kept records. I’ve been blown away by the response, which bodes well for what’s coming.”
He said the property fills a need for high-end office space in Waco, a comment Waco commercial real estate agent Mike Meadows said he agrees with. Meadows was involved in filling the repurposed building, which had seen occupancy dwindle to practically nothing under the banner of the Citizens-branded bank.
Keisha Bridges Miller, co-owner of Prosperity Tax Service, said if she can’t find it at Hustle, she probably doesn’t really need it.
Sorrells, a longtime custom homebuilder, opened his own office there before listing the building for sale without finalizing a deal.
Sorrells shook his head when asked about revealing the cost of the recently completed transformation. He did confirm the project received $550,000 in Tax Increment Financing funds, a vehicle making tax money generated within a designated area available to other projects in that zone after approval by a TIF board.
Hauser has placed 25N Coworking sites in suburbs around Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Dallas, the D-FW Metroplex location being Plano. She said Sorrells approached her about a location in Waco. She was impressed with the city and its “booming” downtown, and struck a deal to involve herself and about six people from her design team to tackle transforming the entire building, not only the 25N Coworking space, she said.
“We’ve designed more than 50 coworking spaces around the country. We know what people need,” Hauser said. “We’re not an incubator and we’re not an accelerator. We provide the tools to get your best job done. Hospitality is a high priority, as is workplace design, ergonomics, decor and accents.”
Larger space on the third floor generously uses natural sunlight and affords a view of the neighborhood around the McLennan County Courthouse. Space dubbed “the dungeon,” though it is also on a higher floor, could accommodate an entire office staff, said Hauser, who has three interested parties.
“We’re having a contest to come up with a better name,” Hauser said.
Touches to remind what the building once was include exposed brick, murals, a meeting room named for longtime Waco banker Mark Boyd, and ductwork made from pneumatic tubing once serving a drive-thru remote teller.
Waco’s 25N Coworking offers day passes, hourly rates on meeting rooms and longer-term arrangements lasting a month or more. Walk-ins are welcome. Clients so wishing can have their photos taken and placed on a lobby wall.
A client who recently signed on the dotted line is Brian Porter, who two years ago founded an independent insurance agency, Cen-Tex Insurers, after working several years for a national company. He and wife Ashley Porter said they relocated to 25N from a Crawford shopping center.
They said they already are noticing an uptick in inquiries, but Brian Porter said equally as important is the feeling he gets having his own office space, “having that coworking experience, though I have no co-workers.”
The new 25N joins two other coworking venues downtown, Hustle Coworking at 605 Austin Ave. and WacoWork at Sixth Street and Columbus Avenue.
As the grackle flies, the 500 block of Austin Avenue is a third of a mile from a planned riverfront project, anchored by the Baylor University basketball arena, that is drawing wide attention and hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investment. But developers in that Austin Avenue block, in the shadow of the ALICO Building and the McLennan County Courthouse, have ambitions to reclaim it as the center of gravity for downtown, with major new office and residential buildings and a courthouse square.