Creative Economy

Troy Innovation Garage looks to become gateway to city

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Troy Innovation Garage looks to become gateway to city

(Photo by Chris Shields)

The Troy Innovation Garage, a new coworking space created by Gramercy Communications CEO Tom Nardacci, opened on Oct. 1, capping off a year of anticipatory stories in the local press. Since November of last year—when Nardacci bought the vacant, two-story structure at 24 Fourth Street for $300,000 and commenced a million-dollar renovation—little of the project’s progress has missed publicity.

Nardacci’s nationwide tour of other coworking spaces, the start of construction, Mayor Patrick Madden’s visit, the mayor’s return with the lieutenant governor, a Kickstarter campaign, a grant from National Grid, the completion of “phase one” of construction, the “final push” of construction—all this was deemed newsworthy, and it’s not over. A week after October’s “soft opening,” the Troy Record recounted a “town hall style meeting” with “members and some potential members”—and alluded to Nardacci’s designs for a “grand opening” in December. Rest assured, we’ll hear about that, too.

Beyond this veritable liveblogging, the Troy Innovation Garage is boosted by a national shift in professional life: The coworking space—an office shared by independent, white-collar workers—has moved from fad to fixture. A few years ago, it still seemed curious that freelancers would surrender their breakfast-in-bed autonomy and return to the office—even “cool” offices, with open floor plans and salvaged wood. “This was supposed to be the age of the mobile (a.k.a. nonexistent) office, with ‘solopreneurs’ telecommuting from home or the beach,” The New York Times observed in 2013. “But many who work independently are discovering alienation lurking behind the home-office fantasy, and an increasing number are joining a new generation of co-working organizations.”

This generation has proliferated. According to the coworking magazine Deskmag, there are now 10,000 such spaces worldwide, a third of which are found in cities with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. Two of these spaces are in Troy—the Troy Innovation Garage and the Tech Valley Center of Gravity, which opened in August 2015 and is two blocks from its new competitor.

The board of the Troy Local Development Corporation, before it lent Nardacci $120,000 for the project, asked him about the difference between the two coworking spaces. According to minutes, the public relations maven maintained that the for-profit Garage is “complementary” to the nonprofit Tech Valley, since the latter is “geared more towards the science and tech side of things,” while the former caters to the “creative economy”—a broad field that includes marketing professionals, architects, theater directors, and everyone in between.

Irrespective of the degree of coworking concentration in Collar City and Nardacci’s shrewd accrual of media attention, the Troy Innovation Garage, according to its founder, still has a ways to go to woo the Capital Region. Around here, Nardacci believes, “coworking is actually not really well known.”

“We’re in this education phase where we’re like, ‘Come try it. See how it works. You have a home office that you love? What about coming in one day a week and getting some social interaction?’” Nardacci told The Alt, standing on the second floor of the Innovation Garage amid the exposed brick, beams, and ducting. A handful of members—at present, there are about 30, a figure Nardacci wants to almost double by the end of the year—availed themselves of ample coffee, deskspace, and conversation. That last commodity seems the most alluring perk.

“It’s not even about desks and copiers,” Nardacci explained. “The old school mentality was like, ‘We’ve got to provide business services,’ [but now] it’s about having a cool place where you can connect with like-minded people or other creatives.” Two members—one who’s “more artist-storyteller,” one who’s a software developer—have already embarked on a new collaboration, and both upped their memberships accordingly. “We just need that to happen times ten,” Nardacci said.

The Innovation Garage offers an array of membership plans, from a one-day pass for $25 to a month-long pass for $350. Everything is renewed ad hoc; there are no contracts. On average, members spend $200 per month.

On the ground floor, the Innovation Garage has rented out seven of its eight private, hundred-square-foot suites for $800 apiece to companies like Paperkite Creative, a women-owned marketing agency, and Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti P.C., an intellectual property law firm. Along with their presence, Gramercy Communications’ anchor tenancy in a separate, 4,000-square-foot office upstairs fills out the quite capacious building.  

After the tour concluded, The Alt found a freelance graphic designer, Greg Cohane, working in the suite designed by Vic Christopher, the proprietor of Peck’s Arcade. (A mélange of reclaimed wood, tile, and string lights, the office mimicked the ambience of the acclaimed restaurant and its adjacent winebar, Lucas Confectionary.) Cohane, who lives in Brunswick, had worked from home for the last two decades. Encouraged by his partner and memories of sociable workspaces in Manhattan, he signed up for a three-days-a-week membership. “It’s got good energy here,” he offered, adding that he’d not yet taken full advantage of networking opportunities because he was subsumed with creative projects.   

The Times Union reported last week that Vic Christopher and his business partner Heather LaVine purchased the former Bradley’s Tavern, a dive bar two doors down from the Troy Innovation Garage. Nardacci casually alluded to another nearby building under contract, and across the street, the Uncle Sam Parking Garage, owned by developer David Bryce, is slated for a $3.5 million partial repurposing as a major CDTA bus terminal. “I want the Troy Innovation Garage to become an entry point to Troy,” Nardacci told The Alt. This blitz of public and private investment suggests that not only the coworking space, but the Fourth Street corridor and even the city proper—pace the present budget meltdown—are all en route to this kind of coveted hub status.

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