The Future is Now, and It's Downtown

| 01 Jul 2015 | 03:17

The newly opened Lower Manhattan Headquarters, or LMHQ, looks, at first glance, like many office spaces designed with innovation in mind. It is mostly open, with high ceilings and movable chairs. Even the conference rooms appear airy: their doors are walls of glass. Long tables are intended for solo and group work or meet-ups, and communal areas with sofas, chairs, books, and a café provide a social environment.

But how the space is used depends on who uses it.

“Ambition is bigger than the box,” said Amanda Ramos, one of the project’s design team of 10 from the global firm Gensler. “The design facilitates collaboration, but what happens in the end depends on what people do with the space.”

Hopes are that LMHQ will be a “third space” between work and home, a clubhouse for techies and where the new downtown entrepreneurs can network and socialize.

“Soft areas transform the people in them,” Ramos said. “They foster creativity and collaboration.”

LMHQ is the brainchild of the Downtown Alliance. Founded in 1995 by a group of property owners, commercial tenants, residents, and elected officials, the Alliance works to turn what has been traditionally called the financial district (and a ghost town on nights and weekends) into an inviting community.

“LMHQ is another arrow in the quiver, as we remake downtown into a safe, clean, and vibrant destination,” said Jessica Lappin, president of the organization.

The 12,500-square-foot space at 150 Broadway is financed by state economic development funding, and by the Alliance, and operates as a non-profit. Microsoft provided some of its latest technology and IdeaPaint installed 4,000 feet of whiteboard walls, ready to be marked up and later wiped clean.

David Rose, a founding sponsor and “serial entrepreneur” who runs the investment group New York Angels, sees identifying and nurturing startups—perhaps the next Google or Facebook—as his calling. He even supplies pitch coaching to those looking for backing, before they present their visions to his investors. He believes LMHQ will nurture the creative, tech and marketing communities that are blooming in the area south of Chambers Street, where more than 800 tech, advertising, media, and information companies have located in recent years.

In some ways, LMHQ is similar to co-working office spaces, such as WeWork, a privately-owned company that recently added a space at 85 Broad Street to its international locations, which include facilities in London, Amsterdam, and Israel. WeWork also has lounge areas and small private offices, and offers two events every week at each location. WeWork first attracted tech startups, but now welcomes writers, media folks, lawyers, and financial professionals into its “community.”

But Ramos is quick to point out that the Gensler innovation office design is different from spaces that rent out private offices, which can isolate each company or individual within the larger fold.

To an observer, LMHQ has an expansiveness not found in some co-working environments. The extensive use of glass makes the space appear completely open, and the whiteboard walls can turn work into play. And, unlike co-working spaces, LMHQ can’t be used as someone’s primary office or business address.

“It’s meant to provide opportunities for socialization and networking across industries,” Lappin said.

To that end, LMHQ hosts events geared toward its members. Upcoming programming includes a July 7 tech meetup and a July 14 panel about women, body image and food. All events are open to the public, with a networking cocktail hour open to all attendees after the events.

Currently, LMHQ has 50 individual and seven corporate members, including Pace University. Annual membership is $1,920 for individuals and $9,600 for businesses, and $30 for one-day access that includes a conference room.

Rose, a vibrant 58-year-old with frameless eyeglasses, said that the world of work has completely changed.

“Real estate people want stability, ten-year leases,” said Rose, who has a shock of white hair and talks quickly. “But startups don’t want long-term commitments. They don’t even know if they’ll be around next week.”

Rose, who is also an associate founder of Singularity University, a post-graduate program in Silicon Valley, said that, for such industries, the future of work is bleak for those who won’t, or can’t, market themselves.

Given the high-tech world of now, people can be anywhere in the world, alone with their computers, but it turns out that doesn’t always satisfy, which is one of the reasons tech professionals come to New York, Lappin said.

“But being here isn’t always enough,” she said. “People want a space to meet others involved in the same things that interest them. They want the happy collisions, the chance encounters. They want community.”