By LISA MONTI
Attorney Matthew McLaughlin admits rehabilitating a historic building in downtown Jackson is a “pretty big leap of faith” for him and his wife, Shannon, to tackle.
Shannon McLaughlin, an event planner who also does marketing and public relations, was looking for office space when the couple found two old buildings on North State Street. They needed major work but the location was hard to beat.
The smaller of the two buildings was in foreclosure. The building, located in an area known as Spengler’s corner, is two stories at the northwest corner of Capitol and State and dates back to the 1800s. It’s the oldest known commercial structure still standing in Jackson.
“I’ve always loved the block downtown. The whole block is amazing,” Matthew McLaughlin said.
“It was the center of commerce and government for the state. It’s been incredible to capture the sense of place and put a more contemporary spin to it.”
Turning the building into a cooperative workspace for creative professionals such as graphic designers, freelancers and small teams is a new niche for commercial space found in urban markets.
“Co-working has been an emerging trend and has been attempted in Mississippi but not to this degree. We felt like the time was right,” he said.
The McLaughlins’ venture, named Coalesce, is modeled after the Launch Pad, a successful co-working community in New Orleans.
Construction started in early December and renovations have gone smoothly. Doors are expected to open March 1. Work is being done by Seabold Architectural Studio.
Coalesce will offer an open workplace layout where entrepreneurs can rent a desk or a private office and share a conference room, kitchenette and office equipment and have access to wifi, lunch and learn sessions and a monthly social gathering. Comfort and convenience are key to attracting clients and so is social interaction that isn’t found working in a home office.
“We’re capping it at about 25 memberships,” he said. A private desk with space for a file cabinet underneath costs $395. A Cafe membership for one of the 15 work stations will be $195. Both rates are reduced with a six-month commitment.
The property will include a space where members can give presentations, make pitches to investors and host other gatherings. There will be regular monthly events available as part of membership.
The McLaughlins are partnering with friends, colleagues and clients who will be available to provide seasoned advice to startups and new entrepreneurs. Among them are colleagues of McLaughlin at Baker Donelson, successful Mississippi entrepreneurs, and the owners of several of the state’s breweries.
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response,” he said. “They believe in what we’re trying to do.”
The McLaughlins are about to begin construction on another building in the same block that will offer single offices and team suites to complement the smaller accommodations.
“We wanted to create a collaborative environment and people are networking already,” he said.
“One of our members is a company that does dynamic website design has already picked up two projects.”
All told, and for what will end up being a multi-year redevelopment plan, the McLaughlins are investing “well over $1 million” in the block.
Among those interested in becoming members are professionals who have offices in Jackson but want a separate place to work as well as out-of-towners who want to be close to the Capital and state agencies.
Coalesce is different from the traditional business incubator, which are usually not found in historic structures, he said. The space in Coalesce is more open, it’s a less formal environment and the clients are creative types rather than traditional goods and services type business people.
And because it’s a new concept, McLaughlin said he’s “not sure what the client mix will look like a year from now.”
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