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New coworking option open in downtown Columbia

Architecture
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One of the conference rooms at the spruced-up and open-for-business office and coworking space at 1122 Lady St. owned by nationwide company Expansive is, without a doubt, secure.

The building, blocks from the Statehouse in downtown Columbia’s central business district at the corner of Lady and Main, has been home to an array of businesses, including several banks, during its half-century history. Remnants of that past can be found in some of its architectural quirks.

Seed Architecture, the Cottontown-based architect of record for its renovation, worked with designers from Expansive to preserve details such as the second-floor bank vault with its 16-inch steel door.

“We were able to open that up and use it as the focal point within the space” of a circular, glassed-in conference room, said John Powell, architect and owner of Seed.

“They (Expansive) were just as excited about leaving it as we were about preserving it,” said Mickie Hoover of Seed, who served as the project manager.

The international style-inspired building, constructed in 1970, was designed by Charles F. Carter of Lafaye, Lafaye and Associates, a noted Columbia architectural firm in business from 1910 until the 1970s. The Seed team scoured hand-drawn original plans housed at the University of South Carolina’s South Caroliniana Library to ensure any additions to the building, such as a rooftop deck, would fit the structure. While the project did not seek out any historic tax credits, efforts were made to preserve the original feel of the building, one of Columbia’s first high-rises.

“That corner is such as interesting corner,” Powell said. “It was a lot of fun to work sort of in the midst of the middle layer of that urban core.”

Optus Bank has occupied the first floor of the building since relocating its headquarters two years ago and is now a client of Expansive, which rebranded from its previous name of Novel Coworking earlier this year. The company, which held a grand opening for its first S.C. location June 3, is offering a variety of spaces for rent and touting the lease flexibility made possible by its ownership of the building.

“If you just want to stay for a month, we can work that out,” Blake Barnes, Expansive area sales manager, told the Columbia Regional Business Report during the event. “Since we own everything, there’s no red tape.”

Barnes said that half of the 95 private offices available on the building’s 12 floors have already been rented.

The offices, which feature kitchenettes and conference rooms, can accommodate staffs from one to eight employees, and nine larger “smart suites,” ranging from 2,000 to 7,000 square feet, are also available.

“They kind of have a formula as to what works best for their tenants across the board,” Hoover said. “They had a general idea of the layout that they were looking for. We tweaked it and made it a little more functional for them. As it was being built, there were a couple of tweaks here and there that we made based on what market research showed tenants wanted.”

Pricing depends on the size of the leased space and the length of the lease and can be tailored to each client, Barnes said. Smaller offices range from $400 to $500 a month, while the smart suites are around $5,000 to $10,000 a month.

The prices are inclusive, with no utilities or taxes tacked on, he said.

The building’s third floor features an open amenity space with an outdoor patio. Winding hallways feature colorful splashes of art and are stenciled with inspirational quotes from some of Expansive’s clients.

Seed worked on renovations on the first, second, third and ninth floors, Powell said.

“I think it turned out great,” Hoover said. “If we were working in the space, I’d probably live on the roof deck.”

Powell said the renovations included a few hiccups not uncommon when working with older structures.

“Old buildings are difficult,” he said. “The concrete floors were not level. You have to work with that. There were some things that had to be done as construction went along that turned out well in the end but took a lot of effort.”

Delays in getting materials because of the pandemic’s effect on supply chains also had to be dealt with. Elements such as break room countertops had to be redesigned when kitchen equipment wasn’t available.

“In construction, everything is integrated together,” Powell said. “It was the full spectrum, from plants shutting down, down to individual workers necessary for a certain task. Construction is complicated and difficult and messy in the best of times.” 

The results showcased themselves seamlessly during the grand opening as folks mingled, a keyboardist played and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin toured the space.

Benjamin said the space is indicative of Columbia’s growth, which he said is driven by attracting outside capital into the city and then utilizing it.

“It’s a validator (for Columbia),” Benjamin said. “The flexibility this affords folks to make important decisions — for companies to have the options that Expansive offers can be game-changing for some of them.”

Expansive offers an access pass that allows clients to rent space in its 40 nationwide locations, including Charlotte and Savannah. McKenna Michel, Expansive chief marketing officer, said the company has “had an eye on” Columbia for a while and is optimistic the building can provide solutions for area business beginning to navigate the post-pandemic office environment.

“People just don’t know what the future holds right now in terms of headquarters, offices, etc.,” she said. “While companies are figuring out how they’re going to handle work-from-home and hybrid models of working, flex-work is a good option.”

Clients also have the option to upgrade their space as their needs change or their companies grow, Michel said, citing a Chicago client who began by renting a dedicated desk and eventually progressed to occupying a suite. 

“You don’t have to change your address and you don’t have to leave the community you created,” she said. “It’s a professional environment but we create a community for people. It gives them a place to belong, and that’s what people have missed.”

This article first appeared in the June 21 print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report. 

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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