Co-working giant WeWork has made headlines for its ambitious growth plan. Last year, co-founder Adam Neumann told the crowd at a real estate panel that the company was looking to take 30 million s/f in the next five years.
But despite the fact that the firm seems to be taking another 100,000 s/f of space somewhere in New York City every week, they are some places the six-year-old firm won’t be taking space any time soon.
Sean Black, an executive vice president at WeWork, told attendees at a CoreNet panel at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown that his firm is looking closely at Bushwick to open its next outpost, because, unlike Jersey City, it’s “cool.”
He joined the firm in March of this year from Cushman & Wakefield, where he was an office leasing broker. He previously represented WeWork in a 2013 lease when the co-working firm took more than 120,000 s/f at 222 Broadway.
Black is now overseeing WeWork’s East Coast expansion, which includes New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., as well as Miami and Atlanta.
“Brooklyn has really emerged as this epicenter of where people want to be,” said Black. “If you look at Jersey City, it’s so far ahead relative to a lot of different product it has, but it doesn’t have life, it doesn’t have vibrancy, it’s not cool, it’s got no vibe.”
He did say there are plenty of things in Jersey City to like, noting that developers have had success there, including the LeFrak Organization, which started redeveloping the Newport area of Jersey City in 1986 and is now working on its 17th residential building there.
But ultimately, people who live in a neighborhood have to invest in it for it to become something great.
“People who work in corporate jobs, you don’t invest in your community,” said Black. “You go to work, work really hard, then you go home and relax, then go back to work. But that doesn’t really create community. You need people that invest in community.”
To find the areas that could become trendy centers of growth, Black believes in following the artists, a group that makes the kind of investment in a community that helps it grow.
“When the artists get there, they take a vested interest in those communities, and they begin to open up nice cafes, restaurants, they have events they’re hosting, creating connections, and that really builds something wonderful,” he said.
If WeWork decides to open a location in Bushwick, there is an obvious option in the formerly gritty area.
Savanna and Hornig Partners’ 95 Evergreen, the former Schlitz Brewery conversion, was just completed this summer, and developers are looking to attract creative and entrepreneurial companies to the five-story complex, which will have high-end office and retail space.
Where Williamsburg and Bushwick have succeeded, other neighborhoods expected to have a renaissance that some expected, have not, said Black.
“Lower Manhattan is the perfect exemplification of an area that should have been the biggest, the best, but it’s been not so great,” he said. “It has incredible transportation, lots of buildings, employees, but it’s got no vibe.”
However he gave credit to Conde Nast, the media giant that moved into 1 World Trade Center, for helping to foster a “chain reaction” that brought energy, entrepreneurs and small businesses to the area.
“Following artists and people making investments in areas and beautifying areas and creating communities, I think you’ll find a recipe for a winning formula,” said Black.
He listed the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood, San Francisco and Bushwick as places where WeWork wants to be.
“Most of these areas are not driven by large skyscrapers and buildings erected that build the charge. What leads the charge is where a vibrant community exists. What was the acorn? The artists in the creative sector,” he said.
In looking for new locations, WeWork isn’t trying to be the first company to make a splash in the neighborhood — they want to pick up where someone else left off. Good population growth, “high IQ” cities, great transportation are three of the most important metrics the firm looks at.
“We don’t want to recreate the wheel, we want to benefit from something that already exists,” said Black. “I would much rather prefer to pay an extra dollar in rent rather than be there first.”
Ultimately though, for Black, the choice often comes down to a feeling.
“One of the things I’ve learned from being a commercial broker, is we spend a lot of time doing a lot of really great analytics and financial runs and analysis, tax rent forecasting.
“At the end of the day, people are making decisions based on the way they feel. If you don’t feel good, if it doesn’t resonate with you, that’s a big deal,” said Black.