1120 Spaceworks: Creativity abounds in a downtown Tacoma office building

When you imagine a large office building downtown, you probably don’t think about filling it with artists.

That perception could soon change when a very large and mostly-vacant building in the heart of downtown Tacoma is transformed into a hub for graphic artists, photographers, painters, and other creative types.

Earlier this month, Spaceworks Tacoma — a joint initiative of the City of Tacoma and the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber that aims to activate empty storefronts and vacant spaces — announced it would soon offer co-working spaces in a three-story, 28,321-square-foot building, located at 1120 Pacific Avenue (see “Spaceworks Tacoma opens downtown co-working space,” Tacoma Daily Index, Feb. 9, 2015).

To be clear, Spaceworks Tacoma isn’t taking over the entire building. The Master Builders Association of Pierce County still occupies the top floor. But when 1120 Spaceworks hosts its first public open house next month, it will occupy the entire second floor — 7,500-square-feet — and easily be the largest single-site project the non-profit organization has taken on since it was created five years ago.

“Absolutely, it’s the biggest in every way,” said Spaceworks Tacoma Marketing and Artscapes Coordinator Gabriel Brown during an interview and building tour this week. After a quick elevator ride from Pacific Avenue up to the second floor, Brown unlocked a door that opened onto a large room where natural light poured through two walls of windows, and one could hear the familiar clang of Tacoma’s Link light rail as it coasted along Commerce Street nearby. “We’ve had a lot of internal conversations about how to take it on and the best way to go about it because it’s bigger than what we have done before.”

The idea dates back about 12 months, to a time when Spaceworks Tacoma was working with Dash Center for the Performing Arts to find a home for the youth-focused organization’s activities. The building at 1120 Pacific Avenue was one possible location, but the Dash Center eventually settled on a new home a block away. Still, a connection was made.

“The deal didn’t happen, but the introduction was made and the idea of bringing the building to life made a lot of sense in both [a] philanthropic [sense] and opportunities in long-term tenancies with aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Josh Heyum, a Principal at Vista Pacific Group and a spokesperson for the building owner, DCL Management.

Heyum and Spaceworks Tacoma Manager Heather Joy began a series of discussions about how the two organizations could collaborate. “They are very positive and willing property owners,” said Joy. “That’s one of the things that Spaceworks Tacoma has to operate around — finding property owners to work with us.”

The pair was exploring the possibility of opening a somewhat traditional co-working space on the first floor when the organization ‘Bright, Tacoma’ reached out with a similar idea (‘Bright, Tacoma’ — another Spaceworks Tacoma participant — is expected to open on the first floor in June). Joy and Heyum then turned their attention toward converting the second floor into private studios for artists, photographers, painters, and other creative people.

In October, Spaceworks Tacoma issued its regular call for applicants to participate in the organization’s Creative Enterprise program. Spaceworks Tacoma is largely known for turning vacant downtown storefronts into active retail spaces, such as the artisan furniture store Revive, the DIY art store Tinkertopia, and the clothing retailer Do The Extraordinary. Most applicants who answered the call last fall were interested in storefront spaces. But some applicants were intrigued by the possibility of private studio spaces. Joy and her staff issued another call for applicants earlier this month, this time specifically for tenants interested in private studio spaces.

“This is a definite shift for us to be inhabiting non-storefront space,” noted Joy. “It’s not a retail venue.”

For now, 1120 Spaceworks will offer 11 studio spaces that range in size from 150 to 250 square feet and include 24/7 access, wireless Internet service, and marketing and promotion through Spaceworks Tacoma. Common spaces include a shared kitchen, art sink, bike storage, shower, access to gallery space with art made by tenants, as well as a monthly Art Walk event. Another bonus: a large outdoor deck that overlooks busy Pacific Avenue and much of the downtown Tacoma skyline. Price points depend on the size of the studio space, but are very reasonable for most creative startups (more information is available online here).

Much work was completed before artists started to move in this month. The building owner installed new flooring, covered the walls in fresh paint, refurbished the bathrooms and the kitchen, and updated the electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems. Spaceworks Tacoma partnered with Columbia Bank for furniture. Earthwise Architectural Salvage finished the kitchen area by adding a refrigerator and additional cabinets. And Rainier Connect will provide Internet service.

According to Brown and Joy, the roster of tenants who signed leases includes photographer Tim Carter of Nature City Photography; painter Mark Tracy; graphic designer Isaac Martinez of Pointline; Shawn Foote, Jim Wellman, and Jed Rietz of Fringeshift Studios; photographer Megan Shea and artist Gil Lord of Iris Photography and Multimedia Studio; painter/sculptor Aaron Hartzell and photographer Devon Urquha of Electric Glow Studio; and Jason Atherton of Tacoma Coffee Company, who will run the administrative operations at 1120 Spaceworks while he works with Spaceworks Tacoma on opening a coffee shop downtown later this year. Also, Spaceworks Tacoma has reached a verbal agreement with the Tacoma Tool Library.

A few finishing touches on the space remain. Earthwise Architectural Salvage will arrive next week to install cubicles that will serve as portable art studios. And a temporary art installation still needs to be completed. A grand opening celebration will be held on Thurs., March 19, between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., as part of Third Thursday Art Walk.

“That’s going to be the official opening night,” said Brown. “All the studios will be full at that point and hopefully people will be settled in enough that they can all open their doors and everybody can tour their spaces.”

“The building is such a great opportunity for Spaceworks Tacoma because it’s right downtown, it’s so visible, and it’s been vacant for so long,” added Joy. “People are excited to hear Spaceworks is doing something like this.”

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index, an award-winning journalist, and author of A Reporter At Large and Wah Mee. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of Spaceworks Tacoma, click on the following links: