WeWork, a growing national network of shared work spaces in funky urban buildings, inked two leases for the firm’s first D.C. spaces last week, including part of the newly rehabbed Wonder Bread Factory in Shaw.
WeWork calls itself “the physical social network.” It has already opened boutique, shared offices aimed at the start-up crowd in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and is working on expansion to Chicago, Boston and Seattle.
The District’s burgeoning entrepreneurial set made it a natural place for WeWork to expand, said Mark Lapidus, who directs their real estate searches. “Just like Austin, Texas is becoming a new technology hub we find that a lot of people are talking about D.C. And we see the lack of creative space and the lack of creative environments for where we see D.C. is on its way to being,” he said.
Everywhere it expands, WeWork looks for the coolest architecture it can find amongst the most happening neighborhoods. One problem: in D.C., Lapidus said, it could barely find any. He said compared to L.A., Chicago, Seattle or Boston the District easily had the fewest buildings of interest.
“Finding the right building in D.C. is obviously a challenge,” Lapidus said. “The architecture of D.C., especially in parts of downtown Washington, is definitely really lacking. They’re all brown, they all look the same, they have, you know, these low ceiling heights. You have no character in these buildings,” he said.
In the Wonderbread Factory, once home to production of Twinkies and other goodies, WeWork found what it was looking for: high ceilings, large glass windows, exposed brick and wood beams in a neighborhood, Shaw, that is suddenly crawling with hipsters. WeWork is taking 33,000 square feet there and another 21,000 feet at another Jemal building, 718 7th Street, in Chinatown.
The leases are the latest deals to reward the family of developer Doug Jemal for buying crumbling buildings in once-blighted parts of the city before many others would. The Jemals leased LivingSocial much of its space, leases Mark Ein’s Venturehouse Group its offices in Chinatown and had the Wonder Bread Factory leased to another firm that considered itself on the cutting edge of modern work places, WorkSpaces, until that firm ran into financial trouble and backed out. The services firm Jones Lang LaSalle, which arranged the 1776 space, also did the WeWork deal.
“D.C. is becoming increasingly entrepreneurial-driven and we believe WeWork’s new D.C. office spaces will encourage more people to launch and grow businesses in the District,” Norman Jemal, Doug’s son, said in a written statement.
Unlike New York, San Francisco or even Baltimore, the District does not have such a robust history as an industrial center to leave it with ample warehouse-type buildings that can be retrofitted into techie space. The 1776 tech hub decided to funk-ify parts of an otherwise staid office building on 15th Street Northwest north of L Street.
Lapidus said WeWork would like to have more than two D.C. locations. “There will definitely be more in D.C. If D.C. is anywhere as successful as we hope it will be for our members, there will definitely be more,” he said.
If they can find the right space.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz