What about security?
That question dominated the discussion at the Indy Hall Town Hall where a group of about 30 community members gathered to discuss the expansion of the Old City coworking facility. The move would put coworking desks on the first floor storefront and second floor of its current at 20 North Third Street.
“The biggest problem is going to be more perception than reality. I think making people feel genuinely comfortable is part of what Indy Hall’s been good at so I’m confident that we can figure it out,” said cofounder Alex Hillman.
The solution, he says, will be two pronged. First, they’ll need to find a technical solution to ensure security. Second, Hillman says, will be addressing that perception problem by coming up with ways to “actually make people feel secure.”
Update 12:55 pm: Hillman wrote into clarify that focusing on the perception of security will be Indy Hall’s first priority. “Through that, we’ll determine the ideal technical solution.”
“The soft part is harder, but I also think it has a much deeper impact on how people perceive and interact in the space.” Hillman said.
But Thursday night, the ’emergency’ town hall for members was meant to unveil the rumored expansion inside the North Third Street location they’ve held since last expanding majorly in 2009 and which also holds growing spinoff web product shop Wildbit. The more than four-year-old coworking space serves as something of a bellweather for the city’s creative community and its collaborative colocation community.
Interest beyond its current capacity has sustained for months and there is interest in having a more physical storefront presence, Hillman says. The bellweather is moving forward.
Hillman recapped the town hall here.
The expansion space, where the town hall and other meetings have been held, is cavernous and empty with water-stained walls and what looks like Formica flooring — and that’s only the third that’s currently open — so it’s easy to see why members feel the risk posed to their high tech equipment is higher. Hillman and fellow cofounder Geoff DiMasi also plan to add classrooms, team rooms and potentially a retail space, so non-member foot traffic is likely to spike, one commenter noted. There was also the concern that more people will bring more isolation, not less, and that members will be less likely to watch out for each other’s belongings.
These are all challenges Hillman and DiMasi say they want to address.
“There are a finite number of bad things that could happen and we should address them in a way that doesn’t preclude us from the infinite number of cool things we could do,” Hillman said.
Although the concern about security is very real in what will eventually be 3,000 square feet of usable street-level space, including a storefront, the expansion plan set forth by Hillman and DiMasi otherwise seems like a foregone conclusion. Even before the discussion was finished, a raise of about 20 or so supportive hands should tell Hillman and DiMasi that their plan to overhaul the threadbare room and have new members working there by May 1 is a go.
May 1, Hillman says, is the three year anniversary of Indy Hall’s current space, which is only part of the reason why Hillman and DiMasi are pushing to expand in just a month.
“There’s no benefit to slowing down,” Hillman said. “There’s no reason not to do this so long as people want to do it. So why move any slower than we need to.”
In truth, with every physical expansion of the group, which has made ‘community’ a near buzzword, has come the delicate balance of aspirations and comfort. In the globally branded coworking movement of the last half decade or so, Indy Hall has been a leader and Hillman clearly values that positioning, recently launching a weekly email newsletter for the movement and pushing forward plans for a cohousing project in Kensington.
Safety concerns might just be a proxy for growing pains.
For the bulk of the meeting Hillman reminded Indy Hall members where the coworking community has been, he offered a rough sketch of the planned layout and began setting goals for an expanded space that will mean an installation of stairs to the second floor and more services, including classrooms, team rooms and, potentially, retail space.
Indy Hall, which has had a waiting list since September, Hillman says, has been adding members faster than they’ve been leaving.
“It’s an indicator that there’s room to grow,” Hillman said.
Hillman told Technically Philly he is most excited about adding classroom space to the Indy Hall repertoire. It’s been a goal to have education programming, in one form or another, since at least 2009.
“The classroom itself isn’t that exciting. I think it’s tapping into the knowledge base that we have,” Hillman said. “Getting people more experienced and confident in sharing what they know.”
The storefront space may represent the greatest unknown. Hillman and DiMasi floated ideas about creating an Etsy-style retail space or a cafe with benefits for members, but the two say they are open to the idea that the function of that space could continually change.
In a follow up email to Technically Philly after the event, Hillman was quick to add his excitement for better connecting to the Old City community and others by seeming more accessible.
Hillman also described the financial progress Indy Hall has made since it first opened, both in terms of loans and membership numbers. Since the space opened in 2007 membership has gone from two full time members to 33, four ‘lite’ (part time) members to nine, and from 23 basic members to 105.
Hillman says that in order to finalize the three-year lease and get the plan in action, Indy Hall would need approximately $60,000 cash on hand. Hillman and DiMasi both said that between their savings buffer, membership prepayments from committed new members, plans for a membership drive focused around Philly Tech Week, and a potential Kickstarter, they think this is a reasonable amount of money.
Still, it’s not a risk they are willing to take on without community support.
“We don’t want to do this unless everyone wants to do this,” DiMasi said. “If we take on risk it means there’s always a chance we could close Indy Hall.”
This is not the first time Hillman and DiMasi have held a town hall to discuss Indy Hall’s expansion. The two held one in 2009, when they were drawing up plans to move from their original space on Strawberry Street to their current space on North Third Street, as Technically Philly reported. Then, as now, Hillman closed the meeting with a pledge to continue the discussion over beers at National Mechanics.
Check out the videos below to see Hillman explain why Indy Hall should expand and the goals he and DiMasi have brainstormed for the new space, which include:
Hillman and DiMasi on why Indy Hall should expand:
Hillman and DiMasi on new goals for Indy Hall 3.0: