Entrepreneurs wanting to move Downtown but who want a flexible lease could soon see another opportunity in an old building seeking a new start.
A Downtown building formerly used by the 4th Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office is slated for transformation into professional space for lease to businesses, startups, co-work tenants and people who need meeting facilities or an office address.
It will join several similar operations in Downtown.
Signs are posted on the Market and Forsyth streets building, work is beginning and completion is expected for a July opening in what the new owner considers “cool and affordable space in a great location.”
Level Office Principal and founder Bill Bennett in Chicago said his group looks for “beautiful older buildings” in central locations that can be bought for a good price.
He said that allows the group to invest more into the renovations.
Called Level Office, the building at 25 N. Market St. represents a minimum $4.15 million purchase and renovation investment for Chicago-based Iconic Investors LLC.
The group, through 25 N Market Level Office LLC, bought the building in January for $2.05 million.
Bennett, manager of the ownership entity, said the group will invest about $2.1 million into the renovations, interiors, furniture, fixtures, equipment and other costs.
Space will comprise private offices, office suites, co-working desks, virtual office services, meeting and event space, conference rooms and amenities.
Level Office, with nine locations in six cities nationwide, focuses on small businesses, self-employed people and entrepreneurs. It operates in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Seattle and Jacksonville.
Its tag line is “love your office.”
Bennett said he plans to have 50 locations by 2020.
“We see Jacksonville as one of the premier growth markets in the country,” Bennett said. “People want to relocate there. It’s a great place to live because it’s got a high quality of life.”
He said no additional Jacksonville sites are anticipated for Level Office, although the group would be willing to create another if demand warrants.
Level Office’s core business is to lease to one- to 50-person companies while providing a wide range of amenities.
In Jacksonville, Bennett said the group plans for about 70 offices and 3,000 square feet of co-working space, along with event and collaborative areas.
Property records show the four-story structure is 53,016 square feet. Each of the floors is about 13,000 square feet.
Bennett said the base area, which is on an incline with partial street-level access, would be good for use as a bike shop, coffee bar, gym or other services that tenants and neighboring businesses could access.
Level Office has applied for an almost $1 million permit to build-out 38,138 square feet among the top three stories of the structure.
Bennett said build-out should run $1.2 million with another $500,000 for furniture, fixtures and equipment and $400,000 in other costs.
Leveloffice.com says office rents start from $349 a month; co-working starts at $199 monthly; and virtual office services begin at $50. Rents can be structured from a day to a year, Bennett said.
Level Office will offer daily passes for co-working, while most of the co-working members will be monthly.
Bennett expects up to 50 tenants in the building. His “bread-and-butter” tenant pays $349 to $1,000 a month.
Rent includes high-speed Internet, Wi-Fi, furnished private offices, 24/7 secured access, mail service, company logo display, on-site management and utilities and taxes.
Susan Potter, who is training, will manage the office.
A competitive business
Bennett started the company in 2012 and said his group is the largest owner-operator of co-working operations in the United States.
His inspiration was personal. “I was looking for cool and affordable office space in a great location, and it didn’t exist,” he said.
Bennett said he consulted with other entrepreneurs and business executives and created Level Office, which was named by an employee.
“Level” refers to helping to take a small business to another level and to level the playing field with larger businesses that can afford corporate amenities.
Bennett said tenants range from startups, professional services, IT, marketing, media, nonprofits and university offices to Fortune 500 companies.
“We believe there is a large pent-up demand,” he said.
Level Office also bought an adjacent parking lot, which will be resurfaced and available for lease at an additional cost that has not been decided. There is a parking garage across Market Street too, he said.
The building’s loading dock will be renovated for event space, he said.
Bobby Knight with Coastal Commercial Real Estate co-brokered the transaction, working with the buyer and seller, with Morgar Realty President Fitch King.
Level Office would join several more Downtown Northbank venues that lease offices to small businesses, co-workers and entrepreneurs who don’t need space on long-term rents.
Regus operates “ready-to-go” office space options in the Bank of America Tower; Executive Suite Professionals offers shared space for professionals in EverBank Center; and CoWork Jax offers memberships and passes at Main and Forsyth streets.
Lisa Gufford, founder and managing member of Executive Suite Professionals, said business is good, if it’s run correctly.
“The market is strong, if you have a good product to sell,” said Gufford, whose company leases the 14th floor at EverBank Center Downtown.
Executive Suite Professionals opened on part of the floor in 2013 and expanded onto the remaining space in 2014.
Executive Suite Professionals offers 93 offices in 38,000 square feet. Gufford said they are 98 percent occupied, with six offices coming up for lease.
“The market in Downtown Jacksonville has improved,” she said. “There is definitely a need for it if you know what you’re doing.”
Gufford said Executive Suite Professionals brought 150 new companies Downtown, including satellite offices for companies from New York to California.
She said law firms also are leasing space there because of its location near the Duval County Courthouse.
Gufford said the key to managing a suites business is having the staff to serve clients’ needs ranging from technology, marketing, sales, administrative work, answering phones and making coffee.
Business is good. She wants to open more locations throughout the Southeast.
Paige Black, managing director at CoWork Jax on the second floor at 5 W. Forsyth St., said business is so strong she’s looking for a larger space.
CoWork Jax opened in 2012 and is “packed to the gills” in its 5,500 square feet of space, used by members who need desks or other work space, technology and a communal place to use for work.
Black wants to move into 10,000 to 20,000 square feet Downtown by the fourth quarter. She’s looking within a few blocks of the current site at Main and Forsyth streets.
CoWork Jax has 150 members. Black said the office has about 70 desks and casual work spots.
About 50 members use CoWork as their everyday office, which leaves 10-20 desks for members who come in once weekly or monthly, she said.
Some members are people who work in nearby office towers and use CoWork Jax for a getaway.
“We are like their escape from their cubicle,” she said, allowing them “to be around a new crowd.”
Black said Level Office’s move into Downtown is indicative of demand.
“It definitely shows there is a market for co-working and we are seeing a boom in Jacksonville and all over the country and all over the world,” she said.
She compared co-work spaces to restaurants. Each has its own personality and the more there are available, the more opportunities there are for a good fit.