Volume 22, Number 32 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 18 - 24, 2009

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Elizabeth Hewitt of the Downtown Alliance, right, shows interior designer Suzanne Michaelson one of the temporary office spaces available at the Hive.

Freelancers buzzing in offices rented by the day or month

By Julie Shapiro

The freelancers and entrepreneurs on the 13th floor of 55 Broad St. have worked just about everywhere.

They’ve tried Starbucks (too noisy), libraries (too quiet) and their apartments (too isolating). Now they are conducting business from the Hive at 55, the Downtown Alliance’s new shared workspace on Broad St.

“It’s a great solution,” said Sabrina Espinal, who started a social media services company six months ago. Until the Hive opened, Espinal was working out of her Financial District apartment, but she missed being around other people.

“There’s really something about a community, working with peers, that you just don’t get when you’re a single entrepreneur,” Espinal said.

The building was a center of junk bond trading in the ’80s when it housed Drexel Burnham Lambert, became a center of high-tech firms starting in the ’90s and now is expanding its uses with the Hive. From the warm color scheme to the open floor plan, the 4,000-square-foot space was designed to feel like a cross between an office and a living room. The windowed main space hosts most of the desks and branches off into private offices, a kitchen, a lounge, a conference room and a “quiet room.”

“We want to create a hub of activity, of people who like to work by themselves together,” said Liz Berger, president of the Downtown Alliance.

The Hive was originally envisioned as a Mecca for new media workers, but it is open to anyone “who has outgrown their kitchen table,” Berger said. Membership ranges from $25 for one day to $500 for a month of 24/7 access, with several options in between. About 35 people have joined so far, including some complete companies.

One of those companies is Tripfilms, a two-year-old Web site that is a cross between YouTube and the Travel Channel. The co-founders used to work in coffee shops around the city, but once they grew to six people, they needed better facilities, said Tony Chang, the C.E.O.

“It’s perfect,” Chang, 39, said on a recent afternoon, as the company’s five other employees clacked away on laptops at a table nearby. “It’s all the stuff you need.”

If Tripfilms keeps growing, Chang said the company would eventually have to spring for its own office. But for now, he is happy not to have to worry about everything that would entail, from rent and insurance to bathroom supplies and pest control.

In addition to taking care of all those concerns, the Hive also offers free coffee, happy hours at Harry’s Cafe and discounts at J&R. Hive director Daria Siegel is also planning free workshops for members on topics like Web design and taxes, and she hopes that networking events will forge both friendships and business connections.

“It’s not just about the work,” Siegel said. “A big part of this is creating a sense of community.”

So far, the community is still small and the Hive was quiet on a recent afternoon, as a handful of workers plugged in their headphones and got down to work. But several members said conversations often start during downtime, and they get inspired by hearing about what their fellow entrepreneurs are up to.

One of the Hive’s first members was Elizabeth Savage, a freelancer for Read How You Want, an Australian company that works with publishers to produce books in large print and Braille. Savage said the Hive is a big improvement over working out of her Stuyvesant Town apartment, especially after something that happened shortly after she joined: Savage was working at the Hive when she got a call from her building manager saying that her apartment had flooded and they might need to take down a wall in her kitchen.

“If I was home, I would have lost a day’s work,” Savage said. “Because I’m here, I conducted business from 9 to 6.”

The Hive isn’t the only shared workspace Downtown: Green Spaces, which incubates environmentally friendly businesses, moved from Brooklyn to Tribeca in September. The city has also worked with Trinity Real Estate to bring small startups to Hudson Square.

While checking out a corner office at the Hive last week, Danielle Briggs, 33, said she would probably sign up for the Hive — and not just because its name works so perfectly with her tutoring business, Bee Tutored. Briggs hopes to host group sessions for high school students at the Hive and also interview potential tutors there. She currently interviews people in Starbucks, “which is lame and loud,” she said.

Briggs also noted the affordability and flexibility of the Hive’s membership plans. The Hive is able to keep its prices down because of support from the city Economic Development Corp. and Bill Rudin, the owner of 55 Broad, Siegel said. The Alliance has leased the space for three years and put $100,000 into renovating it with a design by Mancini Duffy.

Through Dec. 22, the Hive is offering a free one-day trial to new members.






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