NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — For nearly 12 years, an East Nashville company spanning 65,000 square feet has offered shared workspace benefitting employers and employees alike—a work model that expanded during the pandemic.
Center 615 offers 92 suites of varying sizes that allows companies to adjust their lease as needed.
"It's flexibility. We've had so many companies, especially through COVID, shrink. So the way we structure our lease agreements is as long as you stay within our campus, you can shrink to a tiny suite if your business is struggling and break the lease and move. And thankfully a lot of those people have stayed and then gone back to a bigger suite," explained Center 615 founder and owner Christian Paro.
He found the building space on Main Street in 2010, less than two miles from downtown Nashville.
"[My relator] said he was frustrated with only being able to offer his clients three-year plus leases. He had so many small businesses that were just getting out of the gate and needed like three months or six months," recounted Paro. "I said that didn't scare me. 'I can manage something like that.' And then I started putting up flyers and coffee shops, saying, 'Are you sick and tired of your home office? Come to Center 615.'"
Center 615 offers tenants amenities including coffee and tea, parking, a gym, a shower, Google Fiber, a courtyard, conference rooms and a rec room complete with ping pong, shuffleboard and pool.
Before COVID hit, the shared workspace was at full capacity. City regulations pushed some companies out, but when those regulations lifted, the story changed because the flow of work had forever changed.
"We're also getting some offshoots of larger companies where they're not going back to their downtown office, but they can have a footprint here," said Paro. "So that's helping us out... So many of the stories now pertain to COVID. But even before COVID, conventional commercial leases in an urban district start at three years. And some companies just don't know where they're going to be in three years."
That was the story for the Raphah Institute — a nonprofit aiming to help people access resources they need to heal and thrive after trauma.
"We try to help people get the kind of economic resources they need, education resources, housing, community supports, as well as health care," said Raphah Institute CEO and founder Travis Claybrooks.
He started the organization in 2017 and was looking for a place to grow it.
"We came here really looking for just a little bit of office space. That's how we started trying to get out of my living room," explained Claybrooks. "I don't know how small that first space was maybe was 200 square feet. I don't know. It was tiny. It was three or four of us in the office back then. It gave us the chance. As we grew as an organization from two employees up to now 15 and then for interns—we didn't have to go anywhere in order to... grow so it's just given us that room to grow."
Without the flexibility of changing room size, Claybrooks said the nonprofit would have needed to spend far more time worrying about logistics instead of focusing on its mission.
"I'm imagining that probably would have been our story we would have been trying to relocate, relocate, relocate," said Claybrooks. "It's been super, super convenient for us and has helped us. It's really helped to sort of ease what otherwise would probably be a very turbulent kind of thing."
Center 615's community aspect was the impetus for the birth of Washtopia.
"We just wouldn't have known each other without being here. And that's one of the advantages of being in a shared office space is every door is a different business and different people," said Washtopia CFO Randall Gilbert. "I was running an investment fund. Liz was running a marketing company. And we were down the hall from each other. And we met through another neighbor in the office space here. And here it is. Two years after that, we started Washtopia and we've been racing down that road ever since."
The Tennessee carwash chain grew in the past six years but the headquarters at Center 615 only moved to larger spaces within the same building—with the same address.
"The decision-makers are all in this one room. And so when new ideas bubble up, they just get implemented in real-time. And so we're always looking for new ways of doing things and better ways of doing things and implementing them immediately," Gilbert explained.
As Center 615 looks to expand to bring in more companies, its goal to help local businesses remains at the forefront.
"I want Nashville to look locally for everything. There's so many talented people in this city. Like you don't need a national brand like look to the locals. They're all here — just have to search," Paro said.