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Bill Freehling is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and Fredericksburg.com. This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Bill Freehling.
EDA discusses co-working project, vacant buildings, signs
Supporting a technology-focused “co-working” space, improving the look of vacant downtown buildings and adding more informational signs around the city were among the initiatives Fredericksburg’s Economic Development Authority tackled Monday.
The EDA got an update on the planned co-working office space from two of the men whose companies are interested in moving there — Rob Page of Zope and Zebrareach, and Richard Harrison of CodeHero.
Their companies — along with Deedod, WishStars, ThirdRail and many other tech-focused entrepreneurs — have expressed interest in finding a suitable downtown office space with the right vibe. Sharing the space would allow the individuals to collaborate and lower costs.
It hasn’t been easy to find the right space, however, Harrison and Page told the EDA. They are looking for a building with an industrial feel including elements such as exposed bricks and ducts, large open spaces and brushed concrete, but most of what they have found would require costly renovation work.
A separate entity would be set up to lease the space, and the individual workers and companies would sublease from that entity. Those sublease payments wouldn’t cover debt service on a costly renovation, Harrison and Page said, and the individual companies located there don’t want to personally guarantee the lease payments.
EDA Chairman Chris Hornung said a lot of businesses looking at downtown Fredericksburg run into the same issue with high renovation costs. EDA member Joe Wilson encouraged Page and Harrison to consider constructing a simple structure such as a “Butler building” on vacant land.
Harrison and Page said they continue to work hard to find a suitable downtown space comprising between about 6,000 and 9,000 square feet. The EDA has expressed an interest in supporting the project, which could bring dozens of high-tech jobs downtown. The people behind the co-working space are also seeking grant funding.
Also Monday, the EDA heard a presentation from Spaces Design Studio principal Stacey Lampman about a way to improve the look of downtown vacant spaces.
Many EDA members and downtown businesses have expressed concern about the many empty storefronts. Lampman suggested that attractive informational displays go up in the windows of vacant buildings informing prospects about the available space and showing them photos and possible re-uses.
The EDA allocated $1,000 to allow the strategy to be tested on a couple of downtown buildings.
The EDA on Monday also agreed to allocate up to $60,000 over the next five years to replace old “wayfaring” signs in the city and add new ones. The signs help visitors learn more about the city.
Fredericksburg City Council member Matt Kelly, who presented the information to the EDA Monday, said he plans to seek matching funding from City Council at an upcoming meeting.