Saws buzz, hammers thwack and brushes spread paint on fresh slabs of sheet rock as Peggy Stefan walks through a building that in less than a week will serve as headquarters for a small army of entrepreneurs, small business owners and home-based professionals.
Stefan and her sister, Tammy Magney, are owners of “The Commons”—a new office building in downtown Excelsior featuring a full menu of modern amenities. What makes The Commons different is that anyone can claim a desk, pour themselves a cup of gourmet coffee and get to work.
Cooperative office space has become popular in recent years as lease rates rise, and startup companies and home-based businesses in particular have found the option an attractive alternative to the traditional rental route.
The idea to open a cooperative office space building in Excelsior was an “organic one,” according to Stefan, who says she saw an opportunity while looking for a place to launch her own small business as a personal and life coach.
“I knew I wanted to work for myself and that I wouldn’t work for anybody,” she said. “I started to look for office space because I’m a really bad work at home person.”
It wasn’t long before Stefan and her sister figured out that building their own office space was what they really wanted to do. Selecting a site came unexpectedly as Stefan, a long-time Excelsior resident, was running routine errands in town one day.
“I was driving by, and I said to myself ‘that’s the perfect place,’” she said. “Plus, my sister and I have both lived in this area for 20 years, and this isn’t something we would have gone and done in Brooklyn Park or Eden Prairie. This is our home.”
The Commons will open Monday, Oct. 8, and membership rates range from $80 per month (four days) to $500 (full-time with extended office hours). The building is located within sight of Lake Minnetonka on Lake Street (the top floor is actually the Excelsior Post Office) and has been completely remodeled.
“In some ways this is kind of a selfish venture for me because I’ve always said I want to have a really cool place to work with great people there,” she said. “And so here it is.”
Membership sign ups only began during the last week of August, and the response has already been brisk. Charter members of The Commons will have their $100 registration fee waived.
Work spaces at The Commons will range from couches and desks with what Stefan says are “really good chairs” to conference rooms with large screen televisions equipped with web conference capability and entire walls made of dry erase board.
“You’ll be able to write on the whole wall,” Stefan said. “We’ll have tables and chairs in the conference rooms, but they can be set up classroom style or to fit whatever the need is. Everything has wheels. The whole building is designed to be flexible.”
The conference rooms are also available for rent to the general public by either the hour or half day for classes, meetings and just about any other use. A sound masking system will provide a level of privacy in the open space, and Stefan says sound from a normal conversation won’t carry more than 10 feet or so.
“We’re also going to rent out our entire event space,” she said. “We’ve made it so we can move everything. Whatever someone’s needs are—a party, a fundraiser, a large lecture.”
Full-time members of The Commons can claim designated work stations and be allowed—encouraged, even—to brand their space.
“We want everyone to know what everyone else is doing,” Stefan said. “We want there to be networking and partnerships, or even possible business, from each other.”
All members will have access to a high-speed, secure Internet connection, and The Commons will also feature a full-service copy center—which will be available to members of the community.
“People who aren’t members can still come and get copies made—color or whatever,” Stefan said. “We went around to introduce ourselves to all the businesses on Water Street, and they were so happy to hear there will be a copy center. Now they won’t have to drive so far.”
Stefan and her sister have visited co-working spaces all around the country, including CoCo in Minneapolis—which the sisters say is one of the best in America and provided both inspiration and influence in the forming of The Commons.
“CoCo very inspiring to us and setting trends all across the country,” Steffan said.
An added attraction at The Commons will be the fresh Dogwood Coffee available to members. Stressing The Commons has no desire to compete as a coffee shop, Stefan said having Dogwood Coffee—one of the Midwest's most popular emerging independent brands—on tap would be a unique draw.
“It’s really good, and it’s something different,” she said. “They’re actually going to come out sometime and do seminars to teach people how the go around the world to select and pick their beans.”