Noticing Neighbors Plexpod Westport Commons
Did you know that in Midtown, a historic middle school is now home to the largest coworking campus in the world? Plexpod is a flex office space provider in Kansas City that makes room for people of all backgrounds to work alongside each other. With five locations in the metro area, this alternative workspace gives professionals, entrepreneurs, and non-profit leaders the chance to share introductions and influence.
Andrew Brain has seen the growth that comes from this collaboration model, and with Plexpod’s Westport Commons location, he shares the stories behind the expansion of this historic campus.
Hayley: Can you explain how Plexpod was started, and how your family became involved in this space?
Andrew: So Plexpod was started by Gerald Smith, out of a building he had down in Lenexa. We got involved with Plexpod because a friend of my dad's had introduced him, but the story started before that point. We had bought the historic school, Westport Middle School, and we were figuring out what we were going to do with it. At first we were going to do apartments, until the neighborhood said—please don't. We’d like you to do something different, and to see something different for the area. So it reformatted around the idea of office space, and that's where I entered the picture.
Hayley: What did that look like for you? Andrew: I was in Miami, and moved back home to work on Plexpod, as well as start my own business. We started the office project, got it designed, got it financed, and started construction—we were three months into it, and had originally reserved the fourth floor of the building for coworking. That’s when a friend of my dad introduced us to Gerald, told us about Plexpod, and gave the intro of: “I think he's got this coworking model down.” That meeting with Gerald turned into him saying, “Let's go see the building now!” We all drove down that day, and came to what is now Plexpod Westport Commons. Gerald said, “Let's not just be on the fourth floor. Let's do the whole building as a platform, 100% coworking.”
Hayley: Wow. Andrew:
At this point, we're already mid flight. So we had to reassemble that plane and change out some parts, so coworking Plexpod Westport Commons was born from there. Hayley: That was a real leap to take, with it being so far in the project. Andrew: Definitely. In order to make it happen, we invested in Plexpod. We believe in coworking. We believe it's a growing part of the way we office. Both in flexibility, and in sharing, and what people are looking for in a highly amenitized office environment.
Hayley: I've gone to networking groups at the Plexpod Westport Commons, and it's such a nice space.
It sounds like you were very receptive to the neighborhood requests when deciding what direction to go with the building. In what ways do you invest in the area?
Andrew: So community involvement has always been a moving target, in that the area’s needs are always shifting. When we first opened it up, we had neighbor associations holding their meetings there because we've got all this available space. A lot of those have moved to a virtual space now, but we like to keep that available.
We also support the farm, Cultivate Kansas City, who has a big showing of community involvement. We are constantly having students, volunteers, and people from the neighborhood coming in to speak and to work on the farm. It’s all part of what Cultivate does for the area. As far as community events, the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra plays at Plexpod. They have concerts and live performances that bring in a lot of people from all over.
There’s always something going on. One way we have really focused ourselves as a development team is by meeting with neighborhoods and involving them from the beginning. Engaging with people and asking what they want to see for the whole campus has been a big part of it.
Hayley: So you have the coworking modern space, and then also the renovated school, right? Andrew: Right. Hayley: Can you talk a little bit about the building itself?
Andrew: Yes, that's the old historic school. Built in 1923, Westport Commons is the largest coworking facility in the world. It is both the small building, and the large building. It's all Plexpod, all coworking. We live in houses. We don't live in incredibly dense environments, so we are used to space, but also need community. Plexpod is a marriage of those two things and we like to think of Plexpod as a flex office space provider.
What do you hope people will experience when they come in?
I hope people are finding collisions. That's usually a bad word: collisions. You think car accident, you think negatively. But really, collisions and collaboration are what we're all about. A space to bump into someone and say: “hey, here's what I'm doing,” and they say, “here's what I'm doing.” Having that back and forth come from completely different backgrounds, and it's okay.
Flex office space, for me, was really illustrated in a story that Bob Berkebile told about working on the research building in Antarctica. They ran out of funding in the middle of designing it, and so they had to move all the teams to one shared computer lab instead of everybody getting their own lab. The biologists were angry, the geologists were angry, and the physicists were angry. Everyone wanted their own little silo.
They all went to one shared computer lab, and later that year, they were having a party to celebrate all of the breakthroughs they had achieved. It turned out that the breakthroughs happened because the biologist was inputting data next to the geologists, who were next to the physicists. They were all talking and sharing what they were seeing in their data.
What was interesting is that they would turn to each other and share how their work was related, and where patterns were happening. So all these disciplines of study really had a lot of linkage between them, and that shared space forced the collisions to happen. It generated a lot of scientific momentum.
How did that story influence you?
So for me, we initially conceived Westport as a fourth floor coworking space. Where we would separate the different companies by floor—nonprofits in this corner, groupings of similar companies in this corner. We were trying to create these silos when Gerald came in and said: “No, sprinkle them throughout. We want the nonprofit talking to the for-profit business, because each might learn from it.”
It’s all about bringing our work together, so we can start generating those collisions.
All media originally published by Plexpod via their online platforms, with photos provided courtesy of Cultivate KC and Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.