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November 16, 2020

Q&A: Co-working venue helps revitalize Bath, while diverse users find space during COVID

Courtesy / Union + Co Union + Co opened in May 2019 in the historic downtown Lincoln-Church block and has since expanded its footprint and membership through the pandemic.

Union + Co opened in May 2019 as a membership-based co-working, private-office and events venue, at 48 Front St. in downtown Bath. The concept behind the space: to foster community and economic development in Bath and across Maine's downtown communities. 

It was developed by a team that included Sean Ireland, principal of a redevelopment group called Windward Development. Ireland bought the 48 Front St. building, called the Lincoln-Church block, in 2018. He co-founded Bath Brewing Co. in 2018, and was a developer of the Harvey Block/Morris Povich Building and the Medanick Building, both 19th-century buildings in Bath that last week received Maine Preservation honors.

Other members of the team that founded Union + Co are Mandy Reynolds, executive director of Build Maine and a real estate sales agent with SVN|The Urbanek Group in Portland; Frank Carr, founder of real estate consulting firm No Hype Consulting; Vanessa Farr, an urban planner, co-founder of Build Maine and principal of Maine Design Workshop in Freeport; and Justin Stimpson, a business and economic development consultant. The five are acquainted through their various affiliations. 

Ireland and Reynolds now manage Union + Co. The business’s occupancy in the 14,000-square-foot historic building has expanded from 1,100 square feet to 6,000 square feet, with about 35 members today signed up as co-working, private office and art studio users, plus others who use the event space.

Earlier this month, Union + Co joined with collaborators that included the city of Bath, Main Street Bath, Sagadahoc Real Estate Association and General Dynamics (NYSE: GD) Bath Iron Works to open a new indoor community meeting space, called Beacon Park, in the Grant Building at 31 Centre St. Beacon Park is intended to provide businesspeople, residents and visitors a place to safely meet as the city’s small businesses practice COVID-19 precautions. 

Mainebiz asked Ireland and Reynolds about their goals for Union + Co and how they fit into Bath’s evolving downtown. Here’s an edited transcript.

Mainebiz: How did the five folks on the development team come together?

Sean Ireland: We came from different walks of life but we all had something in common: Our work is grounded in economic and community development. We thought that co-working was the best outward manifestation of that – it brings people together to get things done. 

MB: What was the team’s focus?

Mandy Reynolds: The focus was on the co-working space and on building business. Our most recent project, Beacon Park, brought an outdoor park inside. We saw a need to bring together people in a common space where they can socially distance. So we’ve created a unique space that is available to anybody to meet indoors during this time.

Courtesy / Union + Co
Seen here is a co-working space at Union + Co.

SI: Beacon Park is a great example of Union + Co being a bridge to create partnership. We were the bridge that allowed the city, Bath Iron Works and Main Street Bath to come together to have that partnership. 

MB: How did you decide on the Lincoln-Church block for Union + Co?

SI: I bought the building in 2018. Its’ a beautiful, historic building, and 1,100 square feet was not occupied. As we evolved, more spaces became available and Union + Co expanded to meet the growing need of private office space, then art studio and flex space. We now occupy 6,000 square feet. As a developer, the opportunity in Bath is in the second, third and fourth stories and increasing the density in those areas that have been underutilized and, in some instances, not utilized at all. There has been so much focus on ground-floor retail in the downtown, but the second, third and above floors have been completely unoccupied. 

Courtesy / Union + Co
Sean Ireland

MB: Are you thinking about future projects?

SI: We’re looking closely at the future of Union + Co. Post-COVID, we’re hearing and seeing some things about what kind of spaces people want and need. We think there’s an enormous future in remote working. The co-working, floating desk model is probably not going to be as prevalent as we initially thought. So we’re starting to look at how Union + Co can expand. Our footprint here has a lot of common and shared space. What we need more of is individual space plus shared spaces and amenities. 

MB: Who are your members now?

SI: Remote workers, self-employed workers, writers, people who need an office with better broadband, students who can’t go back to campus and need a quiet place to study. We have students who were going to do internships in New York City but, because they couldn’t go to New York [due to the pandemic], they came here. That’s part of what makes this community so eclectic and exciting: it’s not just a certain kind of person coming here every day.

MR: We’re hopeful that, by offering an amenity like a co-working space, where you can find community and get your work done, we will have more people who are young professionals moving to this area. 

Courtesy / Union + Co
Mandy Reynolds

MB: What’s the general commercial tenor in downtown Bath?

SI: We’re very bullish on Bath. Bath has three unique demographics. Its’ a service center, so there’s a strong year-round community. There’s a summer population on the peninsula that sees Bath as their town and service center. And we have visitors – people on their way to points farther Downeast. So Bath is unique. Many communities have one or two of those demographics, but few have all three. That’s very good for Bath. 

Also, people moving to Maine are saying, ‘Wow, this looks like the real Maine. I don’t need to start in Portland. I’ll just start in Bath or Brunswick or Woolwich.’ Bath has the scale, the density, the beauty and the walkability that everyone wants. We think Bath has a lot going for it. 

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