- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - After years of designing shared office spaces for New York City coworking giant WeWork and others, architect Robert Herrera was hoping to secure a space for his clients closer to home in Wilmington.

So last summer, the 30-year-old Dover native placed a cold call to Chris Buccini, managing director of the city’s biggest commercial developer, the Buccini/Pollin Group.

“He had no idea who I was,” Herrera said. “But I was hoping to convince him that a new coworking space was exactly what Wilmington needed.”

Coworking is a relatively new model of commercial real estate. Rather than renting whole offices, coworking spaces allow startups, freelancers and consultants to pay monthly rental fees for shared equipment and desk space, where they often work elbow-to-elbow with one another.

Buccini, as it turned out, didn’t need a hard sell.

The developer had just toured a WeWork space in New York days earlier and was already chewing over how to bring a similar model to Delaware.

“Getting a call from Robert at that moment was a very odd coincidence, to say the least,” Buccini said. “But, it was clear we felt similar about where the world of commercial real estate was going and quickly decided to work together.”

But Herrera and Buccini still convinced an entrepreneur-focused, shared office model could work in Wilmington, as evidenced by the success of existing coworking spaces, such as the coIN Loft on North Market Street and 1313 Innovation in the Hercules Plaza Building.

After nearly a year of planning and construction, the duo are now set to unveil the first $1.7 million phase of their shared vision early next month.

Named The Mill, the 12,000-square-foot space on the fourth floor of the Nemours Building will be the largest coworking facility in Wilmington when it opens April 1.

The Mill is quickly becoming the hottest new real estate option among the city’s local startup set.

All nine of its private offices and 34 rentable desks have been leased while the number of monthly community memberships is growing on a daily basis. The space is now building out a waiting list for a $1.3 million, second phase that will add another 18,000 square feet on the same floor later this year.

“What’s really crazy is we haven’t even done any marketing yet,” Herrera said.

Part of The Mill’s allure, according to its tenants, is the attention to detail Herrera has put into the space.

“It just looks fantastic,” said Fritz Lowrey, director of IT operations for Aztec Exchange’s Americas division.

A high-tech supply chain finance company based in Ireland, Aztec has signed a lease to operate its four-person quality assurance and platform development office in one of The Mill’s $1,200-per-month private offices.

That wow factor starts as soon as guests step off the elevator into the coworking space’s chic reclaimed wood-wrapped lobby complete with a polished concrete floor and 60 Edison bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

From there, guests step into The Mill’s lounge, a seating area walled with custom-built cigar leather and military canvas sofas.

To the left is a library nook filled with reclaimed wood bookshelves. A similar space to the right offers a gamer’s lounge where members can blow off steam while playing on vintage Nintendo NES and Sega Genesis game systems.

But Herrera’s pride and joy is a 28-foot-long American Chestnut docking station where more than two dozen members can set up shop at cost of just $45 a month.

On either side of the long table are four conference rooms that seat eight to 10 people, and a fifth that holds up to 25. The conference room tables were made by the Challenge Program, a vocational training program for at-risk teens and young adults.

“It’s not just about designing a new workspace as much as it is designing a new lifestyle for Wilmington,” Herrera said. “This is very much a 9-to-5 city and we want this space to sort of combat that.”

Thanks to the efforts of the coIN Loft and 1313 Innovation, a nascent tech-scene has taken root in Wilmington in the last few years that’s now hungry for the next-level coworking space being offered by The Mill.

Patrick Callahan, co-founder of the Wilmington-based Archer Group marketing agency, said The Mill presented the ideal location to headquarter his newest venture, the data analytics firm CompassRed.

The five-man operation initially began at a WeWork space in San Francisco before moving back east in search of less expensive accommodations.

“When Robert told us about his vision, it sounded exactly like what we had left in San Francisco,” Callahan said. “Plus, he’s so obviously passionate about it and that’s contagious. That kind of energy is exactly what we needed.”

Tech is not the sole focus of The Mill, however.

Other early tenants include attorneys, a digital marketing company, an interior designer and a host of freelancer and consultants.

“Coworking spaces that are successful have a fintech guy sitting next to an interior designer next to an artist,” Herrera said. “That’s when you get these really cool products, ideas and companies that spin out. And that’s what we want for The Mill - a little taste of everything.”

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Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com

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