Less than a year since Raleigh's largest startup campus quadrupled in size and moved to downtown's warehouse district, it's beginning a massive redevelopment project to more than double its footprint again.
HQ Raleigh co-founders Brooks Bell, Jess Lipson, Jason Widen and Christopher Gergen acquired an old furniture factory just behind their existing property on Harrington Street and will spend the next 18 months renovating an existing 10,000 square feet and adding at least 20,000 square feet more. In the meantime, they'll lease additional space from neighbor Empire Properties at 311 S. Harrington Street.
The move is in response to huge demand for the private offices and co-working desks in its existing 15,000-square-foot campus—at least 15 companies are typically on its wait list for offices. 105 companies now work out of the building, and it's busy almost nightly with meetups, events, workshops and classes.
The expansion will include larger amounts of space for companies as they grow, an offering desperately needed in downtown Raleigh. Many growing startups note the lack of affordable—and without long-term lease requirements—space downtown as they grow.
It's also a good indicator of the strength and vitality of the city's—and region's— entrepreneurial community. National thought leaders at this week's statewide Emerging Issues Forum have all proclaimed the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation to our nation's ability to compete in a global economy. But their data shows North Carolina to be in the middle of the pack on nearly every innovation measure—a big mission of the Institute for Emerging Issues is to help local leaders create the right spaces and resources for innovation to thrive.
Though HQ Raleigh didn't win the institute's Spaces for Innovation Challenge (for which it was nominated), it's clearly providing the kind of space the region's entrepreneurs
want and need. HQ's expansion news comes just a week after American Underground opened a huge expansion of its startup campus in downtown Durham. More than 200 companies now operate within its three campuses. And RTP opened The Frontier in January to provide free co-working and meeting space (as well as private offices) to entrepreneurs and creatives.
Real estate isn't outside the realm of the foursome of Raleigh entrepreneurs. Lipson has gotten plenty of development experience lately—as head of the local Citrix Sharefile office, he oversaw a very similar downtown Raleigh warehouse renovation and redevelopment project last year. The new Citrix Sharefile headquarters opened in November 2014. Widen also has years of experience in real estate development in Indiana, and in the last several years in the Triangle. He's also a partner in the planned redevelopment of the historic Stone's warehouse just southeast of downtown.
A bit about the new property: According to the Wake County Auditor's site, it was built in 1915. It's not clear what happened in the building up until William-Cozart occupied it.
The Cozart family used for furniture production and storage beginning in 1978. The company was focused on Asian antiques, most of which were collected while founder Otho Cozart
studied in Japan in the 1970s. According to a 2009 story in IndyWeek, the business shut down in 2002 after the late 1990s recession had already cut its workforce of 35 in half. In 2009, the building housed a multimedia Made in the USA exhibit, according to the IndyWeek piece.
The HQ team hopes to preserve as much of the building as possible, but designs aren't yet complete. Their goal is to open the new building in the spring of 2016. They'll continue to operate the existing HQ Raleigh even after the expansion.
In a news release coming this afternoon, Lipson noted: “I have always judged HQ’s success by the success of the companies in our community. Two years after we first launched HQ, many of our member companies are experiencing tremendous growth and this HQ expansion will help us to continue to support these companies and keep them engaged in the HQ community in the Warehouse District.”