Freelance web designer Brian Russellâ€™s vision to create a shared workplace for freelancers and other creative types is moving toward a concrete Carrboro reality.
The idea to open what he called a shared office space with a coffee shop atmosphere was first mentioned publicly nearly a year ago. Russell said James Harris, director of economic and community development in Carrboro, encouraged him to make it happen.
The concept lies somewhere between a wireless-equipped coffee shop and the generic, cubicle-clad office. Russell said the need for this type of space is generated by people who have been driven away from the typical office environment but who are unhappy working alone at home.
â€œThere is a productivity and creativity boost that comes from going to a different place,â€ he said.
The place will be called Carrboro Creative Coworking and will consist of workstations, conference rooms and, of course, a coffee bar. Russell said he is close to nailing down a location but wouldnâ€™t say where.
â€œI can tell you itâ€™s in the heart of downtown Carrboro and it has a good parking situation,â€ he said.
Russell said the large number of freelancers in the area and the walkable environment made Carrboro a good area for the venture.
Russell is an IT guru formerly employed by the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication who was instrumental in the start up of the Carrboro Commons. Originally from Richmond, Va., he has been in the area since 2001.
The concept is not completely new. Russell said these types of spaces started in the San Francisco Bay area and have been popping up all over.
Cody Marx Bailey, a software developer, helped found one of these places in the Bryan-College Station area of Texas. It is called the The Creative Space and opened in August. Bailey said founding members were surprised by its success, given its location in what he called a conservative college town that was not rich in culture.
â€œI think if it could work here, it could work most anywhere,â€ Bailey said.
Russell is going to give Carrboro a try, and so far he has seen a good deal of interest in the project. He is keeping about 40 people updated on the project via an email list. About 60 people have responded to an online survey that asks what they would want in a co-working venue. Among those interested are Raleigh and Durham professionals, and Russell said he hopes to eventually open franchises in the Triangle.
Russellâ€™s marketing research, conducted through surveys and interviews, has shown that most people just want a comfortable workspace, a reliable Internet connection and some good coffee.
He has developed a multi-tiered system to accommodate full-time, part-time and walk-in users.
Full-time members will have permanent desk space and automatic use of conference rooms, as well as tech support and some administrative services.
Russell said he hopes to fund the project through the townâ€™s revolving loan program, which has been loaning money to small-business startups since the 1980s. As of October 2007, 58 percent of those startups have stayed in business, according to a post by Carrboro Alderman Jacquelyn Gist on the blog OrangePolitics.org. Some businesses, such as Weaver Street Market, Catâ€™s Cradle and Milltown, have since become Carrboro landmarks.
The next steps are finalizing the lease and completing the application process with the board of aldermen, Russell said. He said itâ€™s hard to say exactly how long the process will take.
Bailey said his workspace in Bryan has been a success that not only facilitated independent creative work but also stimulated new ventures by connecting like-minded people.
â€œThe creative space provided the kindling and some fires got started,â€ he said.
Katie Spencer is a UNC-CH student writing for the Carrboro Commons, the bi-weekly online lab newspaper for Carrboro produced by Jock Lautererâ€™s Community Journalism class.