Loading Dock, one of Raleigh’s homegrown providers of co-working space, is opening its third location in the city this week — this time in the Prince Hall district near Shaw University.
The aim of the new space — located in a refurbished, 3,000-square-foot home at 216 E. Lenoir St. — is to create more opportunities for entrepreneurship, said Clark Rinehart, director of community at Loading Dock.
Rinehart said the idea of opening a space in the neighborhood came after looking at a 2018 map of co-working spaces in central Raleigh created by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance.
While a number of co-working hubs have launched in recent years on the western side of town, Rinehart said, the eastern part of town had been ignored from his viewpoint, potentially excluding those living in that community from the opportunities that arise at an entrepreneurial hub like a co-working space.
Co-working spaces have grown in popularity in recent years with companies that don’t want to spend a lot or commit to long building leases, as well with for freelance workers who don’t have a permanent office. In Loading Dock’s case, users can work out of three different offices around the city — with more planned in the future — for a flat rate. Memberships range from $75-a-month passes for limited access to $900 a month for a dedicated office suite.
“Co-working has the opportunity to be a vehicle to lower as many barriers to entry for as many entrepreneurs as possible,” Rinehart said. “But I think a lot of times, people get caught up in the real estate play, and they forget about the opportunity that we have.”
Rinehart said there has been a missed opportunity to create partnerships with the three universities on that side of town — Shaw, Saint Augustine’s and Peace — and to create a space where students could potentially launch ideas or get experience with a startup.
“I realized very quickly that there weren’t opportunities for people outside of potentially a coffee shop or a library ... for a professional and approachable type of work environment,” Rinehart said, noting that Loading Dock is having “institutional-level” conversations with the universities around potential programming.
Jalen Hatton, the community manager for the Prince Hall space, said one goal is to create an environment that brings together people from the Southeast Raleigh community and those from other parts of the city — a sort of cross-pollination of ideas and cultures.
“What we see is an opportunity for exchange between folks who are not from this community” and those that are, said Hatton, who also freelances for startups. “While we want to make this space accessible to folks from this community, especially the younger people ... the students over at Shaw, (Saint Augustine’s) and Peace, we also want to have folks who don’t look like the folks that are traditionally here.”
The launch of the co-working space in the Prince Hall district, a historically African-American neighborhood, comes at a time when that neighborhood and surrounding areas are seeing intense change and turnover. The area has seen millions of dollars in investments in recent years — geared toward both residential homes and commercial space — fueling claims of gentrification and displacement in the area, most notably in a New York Times article from earlier this year.
Just a few hundred feet away on Blount Street, two formerly-condemned properties are being turned into offices and restaurant space. It has been a similar transformation for the new Loading Dock location.
The house on East Lenoir Street was bought in 2014 by Weathervane Properties LLC for $175,000, when the home was in various states of repair and essentially needed to be gutted. Today, only the white cinder-block facade of the building remains from before it was renovated by Weathervane, with the interior completely remodeled and a rooftop deck offering a sweeping view of downtown added.
Rinehart and Hatton said they want the new Loading Dock space to be a “counterbalance” to the change that has happened in that part of town — though they realize people should be skeptical. “The brewery, the cocktail bar, the co-working space can be major factors of accelerating gentrification,” Rinehart noted.
“We’re trying to provide a counterbalance, so that the weight of that economic system has some balance back in the other direction,” Rinehart said. “But I think that we have an opportunity to create more opportunities. And I think that’s something that really spurs us on as we come to work each and every day, and as we go home to living here in Raleigh — are we asking the right questions and connecting people?”
“This space is going to bring people in that have not traditionally been in (this neighborhood), that’s just the nature of it,” Hatton added. “But through programs like the ambassador program and some other programs that we’re looking at creating, like an innovation lab that’s going to be specifically for the students from the historically black colleges and universities in the area, we will be bringing these two groups of people together.”
Hatton said the group is going to be intentional about how it markets the space and cultivates partnerships in the community. The ambassador program, for example, gives students free access to one of the co-working spaces in exchange for working there a few hours a week. That’s how Hatton came to work at Loading Dock, for example.
Hatton, specifically, will do a lot of recruiting to get entrepreneurs and businesses from that part of town interested in using Loading Dock. The team will also try to boost its visibility in the community by partnering with local institutions and hosting events at local gathering spaces like Chavis Park.
Because of the small nature of the space on Lenoir Street, Hatton said, Loading Dock can be more intentional about how it fills the space — including by putting an emphasis on businesses that aren’t focused on technology.
“There are a lot of things happening in Raleigh that are not just tech,” Rinehart said, adding he could envision using the Prince Hall location as a place to test out retail ideas, like coffee shops and other consumer goods.
“That’s just another way for us to potentially lower the barrier to entry for for a company,” he said, “with a goal that would be they would outgrow us and become their own retail space here in town.”
The first team will move into the space on Friday.
Toole Design, a firm that focuses on designing buildings and spaces that put access to transit and the ability to walk and bike easily first. The company claims that 90% of its employees walk, bike or take transit to work, which is why picking the Loading Dock space on the edge of downtown with access to all three of those options was attractive to its five team members in Raleigh.
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an independent journalism fellowship program. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnovate