KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Breathing new life into old Kansas City schools —a local development group is hard at work renovating Westport Middle School on East 39th Street to create what they call the “largest coworking space in the world.”
“A coworking space is a next-generation work space where entrepreneurs, freelancers, growth stage companies, startups, come together, share resources, in a workspace to overall lower their individual costs, but have access to more amenities and a larger facility than they would otherwise,” explained Gerald Smith, founder of Lenexa-based company Plexpod.
Kansas City Sustainable Development Partners (KCSDP), in partnership with Plexpod, is shelling out more than $20 million to turn the historic 1923 building into “an innovative workspace hub for next-generation companies.”
“So it will be this unique juxtaposition of beautiful old… the best of what we used to have in our history, with the best of what`s available today, in one environment,” said Bob Berkebile, partner in KCSDP.
Combined with the recent acquisition of nearby Westport High School, the group plans to create Westport Commons, a massive campus of shared working space aimed at entrepreneurs, start-ups, and artists. There will also be room for health and fitness facilities, theater spaces, and even urban gardening.
“You`re talking about a space that has things like continuing education and developmental programs that a community can access,” Smith said, “where you have special events, even in the evenings and weekends, so I think it will have tremendous community impact.”
Smith said these types of work environments have emerged over the last decade.
“The Labor Department tells us that by 2020,” he said, “almost half of all the workers in the U.S. will be self-employed freelancers, contractors, independent workers.”
It’s a project set on preserving history, while also trying to make it.
“We are convinced that this facility,” Berkebile said, “when open and operating, will add vitality to the social, economic, and environmental systems of this community simultaneously.”
Crews will work all year long on the middle school renovation, with the expected grand opening for tenants set for Jan. 1, 2017. Shortly thereafter, KCSDP partners plan to begin renovations on the nearby Westport High School.