A new venture soon to open in downtown Aurora will offer freelancers and work-from-home warriors a desk and a fleet of office mates under a space-sharing model called co-working.
Gravity Building, the brainchild of Jimi Allen and his colleagues at Jimi Allen Productions, is hosting a tour from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday in an advance of an opening planned for this fall.
The renovated three-story building at 56 S. LaSalle St. will become a co-working complex offering dedicated desks or flexible workspaces for rent on the first floor. Gravity Building will house its main tenant, the marketing arm of Jimi Allen Productions called Bureau Gravity, on the second floor and leave the third level open for rentals and events.
Allen said he developed the idea after he and several other entrepreneurs began working in a shared space further south on LaSalle Street.
"We were co-working before we knew it was co-working," Allen said. "There were five companies that shared this one room and that's what made sense at the time."
Co-working can be an option for anyone who can work alone, and Allen said Gravity Building will be open to new media professionals including artists, web designers, computer programmers, engineers and freelance photographers and writers.
"It's sharing space," he said. "It's working on your individual craft or business and benefiting from the network that's around you."
The co-working model functions when workers buy a membership -- Gravity Building's start at $250 a month -- to gain a desk space in a shared building with resources including a conference room, printer and Internet access. Most of the desk spaces are flexible, meaning workers may sit in a different spot each day and pack up their laptops and other work materials when they go home each night, said Chris Rud, chief operating officer of Jimi Allen Productions.
"It's going to allow people to share resources and elevate their image," Rud said. "It's not just about having a desk. It's so much more."
The space will be kept mainly open on the first floor except for a lobby at the front and a back corner featuring a coffee roaster who will produce and distribute raw coffee from the building. Allen said he hopes to eventually host a cafe or restaurant that can build a lunch crowd.
Renovating the 1907 building, formerly Reid's Automobile Garage and then Coats Garage, into a safe environment for diverse professionals to work and hold gatherings has required about a $1 million investment and plenty of extra hours from Jimi Allen Productions staff. The small firm's employees spent about 10 weeks removing unnecessary piping from the 15,000-square-foot building to save labor costs.
"We're working on computers by day, tearing out a building by night," Rud said.
The remaining work, including replacing old wooden staircases, will be done by an architect and contractors, Allen said. A garage door on the first floor will be replaced by a set of French doors, but the building's design will remain simple with exposed brick and an old freight-style elevator at the rear.
Gravity Building bears some similarities to the Elgin Artspace Lofts, a complex offering live/work studio spaces for 55 artists, gallery space, commercial space, a community room, a computer room, a playground and an outdoor courtyard.
While Elgin Artspace doesn't offer co-working, Melanie Bahan, a spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects, said the concept is showing success across the nation.
"Space is one thing that artists consistently need, whether it's to live, to work, or for both," Bahan said. "We know there is a need in many communities for space that is available for artists who have their own living arrangements already who just need a studio space."
Creating a haven for artists also has helped revitalize sleepy downtowns in more than 30 cities where Artspace Projects has developments, Bahan said.
"When you bring in artists, people come to see the artists," she said. "It fosters business development -- coffee shops and restaurants and galleries."
While Gravity Building is not specifically for artists, Allen said its personality will develop as it opens for co-workers this fall. No matter who ends up working in the complex, bringing increased activity to LaSalle Street -- a north/south road one block east of Broadway Avenue branded by some as the "LaSalle Street Auto Row Historic District" -- is an important part of Allen's plans.
"The problem with co-working is people haven't really grasped what it implies for economic development," Allen said. "It brings vitality."