The Westport Commons project is poised to become KC’s biggest coworking space—and maybe the world’s.
Inside Kansas City’s former Westport Middle School, construction crews are busy transforming the vacant building into Kansas City’s largest coworking space—and what could be the biggest in the world.
The 12-acre project will create a hub for small companies, individual entrepreneurs and nonprofits in the heart of Midtown. It eventually will include a reworking of the former Westport High, which Kansas City Public Schools agreed to sell to the developers in November.
The $22 million effort is a joint venture of Plexpod, the operators of a large coworking space in Lenexa, and Sustainable Development Partners Kansas City (SDPKC). Several of the city’s best-known business leaders—including BNIM founder Bob Berkebile and former EPR Properties CEO David Brain—are part of SDPKC.
‘Couldn’t Be More Central’
Gerald Smith, the CEO of Plexpod, said the location is ideal, with downtown and the Crossroads to the north and, to the south, the Country Club Plaza, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the Kansas City Art Institute and other resources.
“Its location is just absolutely perfect,” Smith said. “You couldn’t be more central.”
Phase One should be complete by the fourth quarter, and the operators have started taking applications from prospective tenants. The complex will offer dedicated spaces for small companies and “flex desks” that can be shared by several individual tenants. The facility will include maker labs, exercise rooms, theaters, meeting space and other amenities.
And the second phase could feature “co-living” units that allow tenants to not only work in Westport Commons, but live there, too, Smith said.
A great deal of work will have to be done first. During the years the Westport schools were empty, there was major roof and water damage, requiring extensive demolition. The finished product will still feature important architectural elements, especially in the former school’s entryways.
“It’ll be like stepping back in time,” Smith said.
Room to Grow
He’s bullish about the future for coworking locally. According to a study by Intuit, nearly 40 percent of the labor force will be self-employed by 2020.
Right now, there are 11 coworking facilities in Kansas City, and some of them are devoted to specific industries like food or health care. Westport Commons will be open to all kinds of tenants, but its operators are making a special effort to recruit nonprofits by offering affordable space.
Potentially hundreds of people could be coming to work at Westport Commons once it’s open for business, Smith said, helping to create even more demand for housing and retail in the neighborhood.
“We’re not building a wall around this,” Smith said. “It’s very much a vital part of the community there.”