published Sunday, September 1st, 2013

Society of Work links professionals, ideas, collaborations in shared space

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    The First Tennessee Bank building is located in between Market and Broad Streets in downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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A new collaborative workspace is opening in downtown Chattanooga this week that aims to put attorneys at the same table as artists and marketers at the same table as accountants.

Society of Work lands somewhere between a traditional office and a coffee shop -- it's a shared space where customers will pay to work. Founder Kelly Fitzgerald is renovating the 13th floor of the First Tennessee building and hopes to appeal to a cross section of professionals.

The room will feature long tables and a wide-open floor plan to encourage collaboration between trades.

"We'll be a connector," she said. "So you can look at the person next to you and say, 'What did you do?'"

Customers will pay a monthly membership fee -- somewhere between $75 and $450 -- for access to Society of Work, which includes a conference room, three private offices and all the normal trappings of a traditional workspace: coffee maker, storage cabinets, refrigerator, couch, mailing address.

The space will open this week and can fit a maximum 60 people at once, Fitzgerald said. Customers will pay on a month-by-month basis and can work as little or as much as they want in the space.

An architect, Fitzgerald put around $20,000 into launching the new business, and hopes in five years to open a second Chattanooga location so members can work at either spot.

"We want to build a culture of strong community," Fitzgerald said. "And bring people to city center of Chattanooga. It's where a lot of the great architecture is, but it's dead. There's not a lot of people here."

It's not the first coworking space to open in the Scenic City. Four-story Chattanooga Workspace opened last year and now has about 45 paying clients, said Chattanooga Market executive director Chris Thomas. The non-profit workspace is run by the Chattanooga Market.

"The goal is to have that indirect and casual hallway interations and collaboration in the way you might in a larger organization, like Apple," he said. "It's hard to duplicate that if you're on your own. That's what co-working is all about."

Chattanooga Workspace's upper floors are dedicated to artists, while the ground floor caters to business people. Thomas said coworking and collaborative spaces are springing up throughout the world.

"It's the fastest growing segment internationally," he said. "We were the first to open in Chattanooga and we're actually late to the game. I think it's inevitable that more will pop up across the nation. It's the wildfire of the real estate world."

Both Thomas and Fitzgerald recognize the abundance of empty office space in Chattanooga, but both said their target market often can't afford to sign a traditional, long-term lease.

Fitzgerald said she hopes companies can start in Society of Work, build the business and eventually be able to move into a more traditional downtown office.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com.

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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