SOMERS, N.Y. - Part of PepsiCo’s former property in Somers, vacant for a year, is quietly being promoted as a hub for shared workspaces catering to startups and other small businesses.
Adopting the latest trend in commercial real estate leasing—a concept called “co-working”—one of the main building’s nine floors would be subdivided into offices ranging in size from laptop accommodations to full-blown suites. Westchester Urban Campus, encompassing PepsiCo’s 200-plus wooded acres off Route 35 at Route 100, would come with such things as free WiFi, bike trails, a host of athletic facilities and restaurants. But they would not include on-site housing, a concept that was still being promoted as late as last week by the property’s developers, Sebastian Capital Inc.
The housing, some 220 units in two clusters, disappeared from the website after two emails and one phone call.
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Robert Lang of Granite Springs, whom Sebastian Capital deemed a potential tenant, got the first email. It invited him to check out westchestercampus.com, a website quietly launched several months ago by Sebastian, a Manhattan-based commercial real estate firm.
Lang liked what he saw, at least in the plans to tap into this latest hot real estate trend. Largely unknown at the turn of the century, co-working rentals have mirrored the recession-fueled rise of a contingent work force, an army of independent contractors that doubled in size in a decade.
Today, co-working sites have become an established real estate rental alternative, with thousands of shared-workspace sites around the globe. HOK, a global architecture-engineering firm based in St. Louis, calls co-working “one of the fastest-growing sectors of the commercial real estate market,” an innovation providing “fresh uses for older properties.”
But, in the case of the Pepsi property, Lang worried that “the addition of residences will only bring more congestion, more children to the schools and spoil open space.”
Accordingly, in the second email, sent Wednesday, he told Supervisor Rick Morrissey, “While I am pleased with what they are doing with the building itself I am very concerned, as I am sure many residents will be, by the reference to residential properties.”
Morrissey, in turn, telephoned Sebastian Capital. “‘Look, I can’t tell you what to do with your website,’” he recalled advising CEO Roxana Q. Girand, “but you can’t be advertising 220-some-odd [housing] units that frankly will not happen.”
Morrissey said he pointed out that the housing clusters the site was displaying would require town board approval of a special-use permit or change in zoning. “Advertising them…is not correct,” he told Girand. “So, they agreed to take them down [from the website].”
That still leaves the co-working spaces. Amor Diaz, Sebastian’s director of marketing, said they would be limited to the sixth floor of the nine-story tower. Leases on the remaining floors—about 87 percent of the building’s 540,000 square feet—will require at least a 20,000-square-foot commitment.
No such minimums apply to the independent contractors of the sixth-floor, who for $200 a month can bring in a laptop, “choose an available spot and get to work.” This program, the website advises, “is designed for those who need a workspace but not necessarily a private office or even the same desk every day.”
At the other end of the co-work spectrum, a private office comes “fully furnished…for you and your team and access to the co-working open seats as well. The offices are customizable to fit your needs” and start at $750/month.
The website calls the Pepsi property, for almost three decades a suburban corporate enclave, “an urban campus where companies can work and grow in a resort-level environment” and occupants can “get inspiration, share experiences and interact with other members.
“We are building a community of top companies,” the website declares.
It does so, however, with a muted voice. Lang expressed surprise with what Diaz calls the “soft marketing” of the erstwhile Pepsi site. “If you want to market this,” Lang asked, “wouldn’t you want to tell everybody what a great property you had?”
Lang is the founder, among other things, of Americans for Community Development (americansforcommunitydevelopment.org), an organization that furthers social enterprises through the efforts of low-profit, limited-liability corporations, known as L3Cs. As an entrepreneur, he is the kind of prospective co-work tenant that commercial real estate managers target.
Co-working spaces could enhance tax revenue for Somers, which has seen the loss of PepsiCo and IBM, two of its leading taxpayers, in back-to-back years.
Commercial real estate is assessed on a property’s potential rental revenue, not its resale value, as homes are. So, even with their relatively cheap rental rates, Lang noted, shared workspaces are a high-volume, high-turnover business that “can be very, very lucrative.”
“It’s kind of like mini warehouses,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like you’re getting a lot of money—maybe it’s only $25 for a place to come in and hook up your laptop—but you cram that all in on one floor and you’ve got hundreds of people and a lot of money coming in from a small amount of space.”