‘Coworking’ space offers shared environment in downtown

Liwordson Vijayabalan, seen during the move to the new office of the rebranded TMRRW INC. creative agency. Jason Nguyen Photo

Cathy Dobson

Liwordson Vijayabalan is an ideas man.

Eighteen months after he and his partners launched Tomorrow Media in downtown Sarnia, the marketing firm has relocated to new offices on the third floor of the iconic “Taylor’s” building at 140 Christina St.

But this is no ordinary office.

The 8,500-square-foot third floor has been transformed to accommodate seven individual businesses, a common waiting room, common washrooms and wide, airy hallways.

“This is my concept of co-working space,” said Vijayabalan whose company is the largest tenant.  “We love the funky feel. The energy is great.”

Coworking is hot right now in larger centres where various organizations share the same space, working independently while saving on rent and overhead by sharing facilities.

“My version is simpler,” Vijayabalan explained. “Walls separate each business but we share the same lounge area, utility bills, advertising, cleaning service, even Wi-Fi. Each of us is getting a much better bang for our buck.”

His company, for instance, is paying less than half the going rate for a downtown storefront.

It’s a concept that is obviously in demand in Sarnia, said the building’s owner, Mark Woolsey. All seven units were leased before the renovation work was complete.

Apart from Vijayabalan, tenants include a children’s art studio, home inspection agency, insurance agent, a fitness centre, and an artist studio. Woolsey is using the seventh unit as a remote office.

“This floor was just too big before for any one business to effectively use it,” said Woolsey.

The building is a retail landmark with what developers call “good bones.” It was built in the 1920s as a grocery and liquor store.

The Taylor family opened their furniture store in the 1930s and kept it open for 78 years before it closed.

Woolsey, a local realtor, purchased it five years ago thinking he’d make the third floor into a loft and live in it. Ultimately, he bought another house and accepted an offer from a developer who wanted to redevelop Bayside Mall.  When that deal fell through, Woolsey was ready for more ideas.

That’s when Vijayabalan approached him with his co-working space concept.

The potential of 140 Christina St. excited Vijayabalan to the point he said he would buy it himself if he could raise the funds.

Ultimately, he convinced Woolsey to make the financial commitment to completely gut and renovate the third storey. There’s a separate entrance off Cromwell Street and an elevator to the third floor.

Market vendors already share space on the first two floors of Woolsey’s building. He sees the third storey as an extension of that concept but for young professionals.

“Young entrepreneurs want to be downtown. It’s trendy,” said Woolsey. “I agreed with Li that if we could create newly-renovated shared office space it would fill up.

“We didn’t even have to advertise.”

Woolsey declined to say how much he invested but said it was a big undertaking.

Vijayabalan and business partners Lewis Menelaws and Jason Nguyen have rebranded their company and renamed it TMRRW INC. to reflect the growing number of services it offers. A grand opening in their new office is scheduled for Dec. 1.

“After our first 18 months, we’ve rebranded as a creative agency that focuses on design and development,” said Vijayabalan. “The concept for these third-floor offices is an excellent example of what we can do.”

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Got an interesting business story? Contact Cathy Dobson at cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca or call 226-932-0985.