Common announced Tuesday that it will be partnering with local developers in five cities of varying size, all of which are generally passed over by major employers, to build multifamily projects called Remote Work Hubs. Such hubs would have a large portion of their square footage devoted to workspace, such as common areas that resemble traditional coworking spaces or dedicated space within units designed specifically for work.
Common released a request for proposals in the summer after CEO Brad Hargreaves noticed how the coronavirus pandemic had made remote work much more commonplace virtually overnight, and the following five projects were selected in early December. For each project, Common will partner with the developers as a creative collaborator and an equity investor, Hargreaves said.
- NOLA Workstyle by Formwork Development in New Orleans.
- The Aqueduct by Landers Management, Costanza Enterprises and Rob Sands in Rochester, New York.
- Rocky Mount Mills by Capitol Broadcasting Co. in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
- Electric Alley and Powder Mountain by Outlier Realty Capital and Powder Development in Ogden, Utah.
- An as-yet-unnamed project by Blue Crane LLC in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Most of the projects have not formed detailed plans, with only The Aqueduct already under construction. While the particulars of each city and development vary wildly, all of them are defined by taking advantage of their locations as places to live while using the developments themselves to facilitate work.
“[Cities] have been focusing away from recruiting the next big headquarters, like another Amazon HQ2 process, and focusing on recruiting workers themselves,” Hargreaves said. “We saw that it would be the direction of economic development moving forward, and as a brand with residential experience that people search out when moving to a new place, we felt there was a role for us.”
As companies have been forced to accept the prevalence of remote work and the pandemic has underscored the need for outdoor space, workers have fled the largest coastal cities for areas with lower costs of living and more of an emphasis on quality of life. That has led smaller cities to try to distinguish themselves by any means necessary.
The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, launched a program in 2018 offering $10K to incoming remote workers that drew significantly more interest than city officials predicted, and the number of economic development groups following suit has grown exponentially since the outbreak of the pandemic. The Northwest Arkansas Alliance, representing the region including Bentonville, launched a program of its own in November offering $10K and a bike.
Towns and cities across the U.S. each have their own recruiting pitches for new residents, but a remote workforce will likely need amenities that are conducive to productivity and work success, rather than just a nicer place to open a laptop. Since the rise of WeWork, “coworking spaces” have been a common part of new apartment buildings’ amenity offerings, but such spaces are rarely designed to accommodate long-term remote work, especially if a significant portion of tenants intend to use it, according to TransparentBusiness Chief Transparency Officer and MoeVela LLC CEO Moe Vela, who specializes in consulting for remote work. Vela is not connected to Common’s program or any of its specified projects.
“Traditional multifamily housing is not set up for that, or at least the vast majority isn’t designed with remote work in mind,” Vela said. “To hear what Common is doing is really exciting, because I couldn’t agree with them more that such a concept is needed.”
Each Remote Work Hub will be designed to take advantage of the specific allure of its locale — the RFP listed connectivity to the immediate area and explicit support from local governments as prerequisites. In Ogden, Bentonville and Rocky Mount, the hubs will likely become integral parts of local recruiting pitches, representatives for the respective projects told Bisnow.
“We focused on cities that don’t have a booming tech scene but have a lot of positives going for them in terms of quality of life, amenities and so forth,” Hargreaves said. “And we wanted to open it up, to not just go to our friends or relationships, but see what cities wanted to be a part of it.”
Powder Development is a subsidiary of Powder Mountain, the largest ski resort in the U.S. and which sits around 15 miles from Downtown Ogden, and the crux of its partnership with Outlier and Common will be to connect the Electric Alley multifamily project in Ogden itself with access to the resort.
Rocky Mount Mills is a wooded campus surrounding its eponymous, historic mill building, which has been redeveloped to contain 110K SF of offices, 80K SF of which is already occupied, 67 fully occupied loft apartments and an under-construction restaurant. Separate structures include 55 single-family rental homes, also fully occupied, four restaurants and a brewery incubator housing six brewers. CBC’s collaboration with Common will occupy the 180K SF former Caromount Mill, also historically protected and overlooking the Tar River.
“We think Common can bring some guidance on what the market sees and how we can drive this home nationally for people looking to find a place to settle in,” Rocky Mount Mills Development Manager Evan Covington Chavez said.
Located in the largely residential Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans, NOLA Workstyle will appeal to workers fleeing sky-high rents in the country’s biggest U.S. cities that aren’t ready to give up their “cultural richness,” Formwork founder and Principal David Hecht said. Mid-City also borders City Park, which is 50% bigger than New York’s Central Park.
In addition to being the home of Walmart’s corporate headquarters, Bentonville bills itself as the “Mountain Biking Capital of the World.” The site where Blue Crane and Common’s project will rise is a greenfield, but Blue Crane Director of Real Estate Development and Investment Jared Faciszewski is committed to connecting it directly to the city’s vast system of bike trails.
Until 2019, the Aqueduct was an office complex occupied by international media corporation Thomson Reuters. Overlooking the Genesee River that runs through Downtown Rochester, the 195K SF project will combine 115 apartments with 49K SF of office, retail, storage and amenity uses across four buildings, the first portions of which are scheduled to open before the end of this year.
An adaptive reuse of historically protected buildings, the Aqueduct will “feature prominently” in the city of Rochester’s ROC the Riverway revitalization initiative, Landers Management founder and Managing Member Peter Landers said, including connecting the complex to a new riverfront promenade.
The key third component of the Remote Work Hubs, beyond the work-conducive design of the residential portion and the appeal of the surrounding communities, will be incorporating amenities that help achieve the work-life balance that pandemic-induced working from home has imperiled. For Bentonville, Ogden and Rocky Mount, the immediate proximity of nature and outdoor recreation is the selling point. For Rochester and New Orleans, it isn’t so simple.
For NOLA Workstyle, Formwork has already committed to carving out a portion of its commercial space for an early childhood education center in the hopes of addressing the unique disadvantage that working parents (especially mothers) have suffered working at home. The Aqueduct will be geared more toward younger professionals with programming at the adjacent park and a food, beverage and entertainment component in the project’s commercial space.
“I think it’s key that you give them as much of a one-stop shop as possible,” Vela said. “Now you’ve got lodging and the workforce environment, if you add in things like a dry cleaner, a gym, fitness center or spa, and maybe even a 24-hour health clinic, you’re onto the future.”