In February 2020, Technical.ly took a tour around the then-new The Mill Concord, the second location of the Wilmington coworking space that had been transformed from a dated ’80s office park building to a modern communal and micro-office workspace. It was already starting to fill up.
Downtown, the original Mill space in the Buccini-Pollin Group’s Nemours Building had a waiting list. Things were looking up for the coworking work model in Wilmington.
Then, like a thunderclap, came March 2020 and COVID-19.
The Mill didn’t actually close during the shutdown. Members have key cards that allow them to enter the space any time day or night, and they could continue coming in to work if they wanted (and a few did). But, for the most part, the buzzing coworking space was left quiet: Few meetings in the conference rooms, lunchtime hangs or happy hours around the kegerator.
This shutdown period and the pandemic purgatory that follows to this day, is still impacting The Mill, but not in the way it once did when it was a ghost town.
In fact, The Mill is continuing to grow, with a new expansion project at the Nemours Building location that will change the space dramatically while focusing on two things: amenities, and leasable spaces comprised of two offices and a common area.
The double office spaces are unlike the offices in the current fourth floor space, which, aside from a couple of larger spaces including Zip Code Wilmington’s suite, are mostly micro-sized, designed for one or two people.
The new office design by Gensler — we’ll call it the “hybrid office” — is geared toward companies that have shifted to remote, but still want a place where employees can have meetings and work together in person if they need or want to.
“I think it’s interesting that [companies] are getting rid of their long-term leases, and they want a presence in The Mill,” said Rob Herrera, The Mill’s founder. “They’ll be hybrid here in The Mill, so they don’t need as much office space. But they want a presence. And part of the amenities galore we’re doing is that we’re appealing to larger companies that would have never entertained coworking pre-pandemic. They want to be in the coolest space that gets their employees to want to come to work.”
The expansion is happening on the third floor of the building, allowing members to move between floors using a yet-to-be-constructed steel staircase that will emerge into a little-used area in the fourth floor communal space.
But the big reason Herrera jumped at the chance to turn the third floor into an extension of The Mill when its previous tenants moved out was something many may not even know exists: The third floor has outdoor terraces.
“We’re going to deck all the terraces out,” said Herrera, showing renderings of people having a cookout in the outdoor space. This “party zone” includes bar areas and an indoor game area with amenities like shuffleboard and foosball. This area will be separated from the offices by a closed-off elevator bank area to prevent noise from disturbing people doing work.
Two refurbished elevators will be dedicated to The Mill floors only, and members will no longer need key cards. Instead, access will be app-based and easier for Director of Operations Rebecca Parsons to manage as membership grows.
A glassed off multi-purpose room will be the place for workshops, including creative, non-work-related workshops like calligraphy.
Another major amenity will be the podcasting suite, which is the planned future home base of the “Battle Scars: Tales from Entrepreneurs” podcast with Patrick Callahan and Lee Mikles. Members will have access to the equipment and edit their own podcasts, or order podcast production services. Non-members will also be able to book the podcasting suite when available.
Herrera has some ambitious ideas that may or may not come to fruition, like a bike share room. Either way, the expansion, which will add 31 new office suites to The Mill’s footprint, as well as additional communal work space, represents a turning point for the company.
Today, both the downtown Mill and The Mill Concord are back to nearing 100% occupancy, showing the resiliency of a business model that seemed to be on the brink a couple of years ago.
“2019 was was the most profitable year we ever had,” Herrera said. “I was like, I’ve done it, I figured this out — because it’s years of grinding. I was counting my distribution checks before 2020 punched us in the face. But we got through.”
The third floor expansion is expected to be completed in mid- to late-2023, and will be the new home of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, now located in the Mill’s non-coworking office space on the seventh floor of the Nemours Building.
In the meantime, another project and collaboration with the NERDiT Now Foundation, which will have its new headquarters at Downtown Wilmington’s 212 building on Ninth Street with an expected launch in November.
Check out more of Gensler’s renderings of the Mill’s third-floor expansion: