The future of coworking is bright. Starting earlier this year, local operators report increased demand. Buoyed by the state's early reopening and the ongoing migration of tech employees and companies, the Austin coworking market is performing better than most.
Coworking is the use of an office by people who are self-employed or work for different employers so as to share resources and save on overhead costs. "I truly believe coworking is the new normal," said Lindsey Rohde, senior director of campus operations for Galvanize, which has campuses in six cities, including a 20,000-foot-space in the 2nd Street District.
On the ground
Galvanize has seen month-over-month revenue growth since January and the most sales leads in its 12-year history. In the Austin area, Rohde suspects this growth is due to the continued migration of millennials to the Austin area, which has prompted companies and investors to follow suit.
More so than any of its locations, Galvanize Austin is seeing an uptick in demand from larger companies that need an office for a single remote employee or small remote team—what is known in the industry as a hub-and-spoke model. "Companies have realized, as we've proven ourselves in the last year, that remote work is an amenity that you can offer to your employees," she said.
The Commune in the North Loop neighborhood has also seen demand increase in the last couple of months, mostly among new members, many of whom moved to Austin during the pandemic. (Molly Culver)
The Commune, a North Loop coworking space that caters to artists and creatives, has also benefited. Founder and owner Lauren Cunningham said the business, which lost around 75% of its members last spring, has seen an uptick in demand in the last couple months and is now approaching pre-pandemic levels. The vast majority of the Commune's members are new, and many relocated to Austin during the pandemic.
In addition to these transplants, the vaccine rollout has played a role. "There's definitely a correlation between when we've seen an uptick in new members and vaccination rates," she said.
Commercial real estate firm CBRE predicts a positive outlook for the local office market in 2021, despite rising vacancy rates and negative absorption. Senior Field Research Analyst Luke Goebel said this is because of the numerous companies that have announced plans to relocate to Austin. Those companies will need office space.
Kevin Hanan, a CBRE broker who specializes in office tenant representation, said clients' main request right now is flexible office space. Coworking spaces offer short-term leases that are easy to get into (and out of) and expand. "The coworking-slash-flexible office market provides a nice, risk-free way to plant your business in Austin," he said.
Clients are also looking for coworking options that offer privacy and network security. This shift away from the communal, "hot desk" model that defined the coworking industry even just a few years ago predates the pandemic, Hanan said, but the last year has accelerated it.
Austin-based Firmspace offers proworking space, which is geared toward business professionals in search of more privacy and security than a traditional coworking space might offer. (Firmspace)
Austin-based Firmspace, which has four locations across the country, including at 500 West Second Street, calls this "proworking." CEO Anish Michael believes the coworking industry is headed in this direction and anticipates a consolidation as a result of the pandemic. Firmspace, however, is doing well. The company is due to open a fifth location in Chicago this month and is exploring the possibility of a second location here in town. "We've always thought Austin is ahead of the game," he said.
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As summer temperatures continue to increase, so does Austin's "Party Island"—a hundreds-strong army of kayakers and paddle boarders who gather each weekend in the middle of Lady Bird Lake.
Born from the pandemic, the swarm of paddleboarding partiers has continued to grow each summer and can be seen from the nearby Lamar Boulevard Bridge. And while "Party Island" certainly lives up to one half of its name, it's not actually an island at all: instead, it's located at a shallow sandbar near Lou Neff Point.
With beers, burgers from portable grills and even DJ turntables in hand, more friends and strangers continue to beat the heat in new ways at the distinct Austin hangout.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.