Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

January 22, 2020

South Portland coworking space expands, driven by private office demand

A view of staircase in a split level office, with working space on on both levels Photo / Maureen Milliken SoPo Coworking, on Broadway in South Portland, has expanded two years after it opened in split-level office building that originally housed a podiatry practice. It has dedicated desks on the top level, floating spaces on the bottom level and 17 in-demand private offices.

James LaPlante isn't a real estate developer or manager. "I'm a computer animation guy," he said as he stood in the newly expanded private office area of SoPoCo.Works.

But as he discussed the possibility of adding on to the 3,700-square-foot building at 1486 Broadway, he laughed. "Maybe I should've been a real estate developer."

LaPlante opened the coworking space in 2,500 square feet of the former podiatry office in May 2018. At the time, the other third of the building was offices with tenants who'd been there before LaPlante creating the space. That was phase one of the project, and he said he expected converting the rest, in phase two, was somewhere down the road.

"I always kind of planned a phase two expansion," he said Tuesday. "Bu the second phase happened a lot more quickly that I expected."

The build-out of the rest of the building has been driven by demand for private office space. There are 17 private offices in the building, including units converted to two podcast studios for coworking member Tanner Campbell's growing Portland Pod business.

LaPlante has a waiting list for private offices. "If I could build more, I would," he said. 

Members, it turns out, like the flexibility of the space, but also like to be able to shut the door and make a phone call, or talk to a colleague, or just spread out. The offices range from $350 a month to $600.

Those on the waiting list may have long waits, too. He's had little office space turnover in the nearly two years he's been open.

Photo / Maureen Milliken
James LaPlante, owner of SoPoCo.Works in South Portland, in the expanding podcasting studio, which is the home of Portland Pod, owned by Tanner Campbell.

A fast two years

A lot of other things have happened too, since he opened. In November, LaPlante was one of 16 coworking businesses in the state to be awarded a grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development, in a program that was started in 2015 but was dormant until last year.

In 2018, the city of South Portland named SoPoCo.Works the "New Business of the Year." At the time, city Economic Development Director Bill Mann told Mainebiz the business is something the city needed. "Something for similarly minded business adventurers.”

LaPlante said Tuesday coworking businesses are economic drivers, and despite South Portland's size, SoPoCo.Works gives it a visibility for entrepreneurs that the city may not have had.

"South Portland has all these hidden gems, and it's a way to bring the conversation," he said.

In the past two years, LaPlante has learned some lessons, too.

He dropped the dedicated desk price from $250 a month to $195. The desks, which members who pay for them can call their own, are on the second level of the building. At first, they were configured into pods, but once he separated them, he got more takers.

A perk of the dedicated desk membership is they're first in line on the private office waiting list. 

They're still his "most challenging" member level, he said. "I could use more people who want dedicated desks."

The space has between 30 and 40 members in total, and also has day rates, which are popular with summer visitors who need a space to get some work done.

His animation studio, Sputnik Animation, still operates out of the upper level, too. When he first conceived of the space, he envisioned a place where creatives could collaborate organically and network. The emphasis would be on working, not frills like free coffee and amenities that other coworking spaces tout.

Despite new additions, the space still has the vibe that he was looking for — a no-frills approach with a membership that comprises an indie filmmaker, a videographer, a podcasting business, a marking business, writers and more.

"We're work-focused," he said. "But I'm amazed at how quickly and organically the collaboration has grown."

Photo / Maureen Milliken
The small podcasting studio at SoPoCo.Works takes up space that was formerly a private office. Portland Pod, which rents the space, is expanding.

Incubating businesses

The space has also been a hot incubator for two businesses.

Tech firm Everywhere Communications started with two floating members, and now occupies three of the four private offices in the phase one section of the building.

The Portland Pod is the only dedicated full-service podcast studio in New England — one that handles recording, editing, engineering, marketing and ad management all under one roof.

Campbell started out with a dedicated desk, and now occupies what amounts to four office spaces.

"That's kind of what it's all about," LaPlante said. "Two members when they first came with an intention of being temporary, but they liked the space and wanted to stay, and they've grown here."

The podcast studio expansion was a big part of the overall phase two expansion.

The first part of the phase two happened in 2018, when the first studio, with Campbell's engineering space, was developed. That's now grown to two small adjacent offices, where an engineering room overlooks a smaller studio.

LaPlante says the renovation to that space was much more complex than the renovation to the rest of the space, involving soundproofing, special materials and more.

Campbell said even the walls are different — they have a resilient channel with gaps that absorb sound waves.

They also had to plug a window with small-cell hyper-dense acoustic foam and buy a 600-pound, 2.5-inch thick door, which cost $3,000.

Among Campbell's 16 clients are Blauer Uniform Co., Briburn Architecture, The Boulos Co., Marshall Communications, MEMIC, Dell. Otelco, Spinnaker Trust, Remax, Significa Group and others.

Photo / Maureen Milliken
SoPoCo.Works at 1486 Broadway in South Portland now occupies the entire 3,700-square-foot building at the site, expanding from 2,500 square feet when it opened two years ago.

Growth, within reason

The phase two renovation included getting rid of waiting room for a therapist practice that had once been there, and a lot of cosmetic changes, as well as the podcast studio expansion. He's also added lockers for members. The building now has private phone rooms in the newly renovated area, which is also accessible for wheelchairs.

LaPlante said he doesn't worry about businesses outgrowing the space. "This is a place where startups, entrepreneurs can come in, interact, work, and we'll accommodate growth as best we can."

LaPlante lives in the house next door and there's room to expand, and the buildings are in a commercial zone.

"I could expand the space out, put in more office space," he said. "As much as I built, I'd fill it."

Still, it's expensive, and he's not a real estate developer. He likes the green space, there's enough parking, and things are good the way they are.

"I'm not in this to make a big profit or anything," he says. "It was more about building a community, and that's what's happened here."

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF