This is the second in an occasional series about co-working spaces and other startup-friendly work places. The first article was on Story Louisville in Butchertown.
Route 31E runs from Louisville to Nashville. Here in the city, it’s better known as Bardstown Road. But business partners Lamont Breland and John Reinhart have adopted 31e as the name of their co-working hub in the old Edenside Christian Church on Bardstown Road.
The partners bought the 108-year old church two years ago when its congregation had sunk to under 20 people “who didn’t want it turned into a hookah bar,” Breland said.
The pair began renovations on the building that once housed classrooms and a cafeteria. Phase II, which will be to renovate the actual sanctuary, should begin this summer.
The building is around 6,000 square feet, with 18 rooms and is fully occupied most of the time. When one tenant moves out, there’s usually another ready to move in.
Their initial intention was to create a typical co-working space with big communal spaces full of big tables. But when they first started renovations, they heard a lot of demand for small, flexible office space, and they answered that demand with memberships ranging from $150 to $1,000.
There are only two members who use 31e as actual co-working space. Everyone else “has a door,” as the partners like to say.
The partners consider 31e an incubator. They hope tenants move in, scale up and move out to larger digs.
As part of the renovation, the building was fitted with a new HVAC unit, many of the cinderblock walls were covered with decorative woodwork or wood and glass panels and security cameras were installed everywhere. Doors are all equipped to be opened with an electronic key fob, giving members 24-hour access.
On the second floor, there’s a room they call Thunderbird Cafe because the eclectic decor includes the front grille of a Thunderbird. It’s a cozy space with coffee makers, microwave, fridges and, as with all of the community space, an Apple TV.
There are also at least two office dogs.
Current tenants include City Scoot and Academic Platforms. City Scoot, the designated driver service, uses its office in 31e as a lounge for on-call drivers in between rides — convenient, given the Highlands location.
The location is key to many of the tenants.
Amar Shah is a software engineer who works remotely from 31e for Healthify in New York City. He started working at 31e in July 2015 when he worked for a San Francisco company. He left that company last July to work for Healthify and stayed on as a reserved co-worker.
“I chose 31e because it is in my neighborhood (within walking distance from home) and because I can rent a reserved space,” he said over Twitter. “The cost of renting a reserved space at 31e is cheaper than having an unreserved membership at a co-working space in San Francisco, so my companies’ budgets for coworking completely cover the cost.”
Thomas Neirynck also cited the location and the ability to reserve a desk as the main reasons he went with 31e. He works for Elastic, a data solutions company founded in Amsterdam, but now operating out of Mountain View, Calif.
Breland and Reinhart will be upgrading the outdoor spaces so that people can work outside when it’s nice out. The partners have been confirmed by the city to create six parking spots for the building.
Phase II targets the more than 2,000 square feet of the sanctuary and will include nine offices and a conference space in the former choir loft. There is also a former cafeteria, which they are thinking they may use as event space or more co-working space.
Breland and Reinhart are already looking for companies willing to commit. Early-committing companies will get a voice in how their offices are built out.
As with their current members, they’re not looking for companies to treat this like an office building. The community aspect of 31e is important to them. Their slogan, “Create. Relate. Innovate.,” sums up what they hope their members’ experiences are.