WeWork's office building in downtown Berkeley with newly painted murals by xxx. Photo: William Newton
WeWork, at 2120 University Ave. (at Shattuck), in downtown Berkeley has newly painted murals by Jason Woodside. Photo: William Newton
WeWork, at 2120 University Ave. (at Shattuck), in downtown Berkeley has newly painted murals by Jason Woodside. Photo: William Newton

WeWork, which has been called the country’s leading co-working company and is expanding globally at a rapid rate, according to the business press, has opened in downtown Berkeley.

Monday, Feb. 2, the company opened a new raft of offices on the seventh floor of the building at 2120 University Ave. (at Shattuck Avenue). This followed the launch of two other floors, on the fifth and sixth stories, in early January. And passers-by won’t have failed to notice the vibrant murals that have appeared on two façades of the structure. They were created by New York-based artist Jason Woodside.

WeWork plans to roll out three more floors of space by June 1, at which point there will be 45,000 square feet of office space potentially housing about 600 people in the six-story building, said Aja Anderson, WeWork Berkeley‘s community manager. As a result, it has fast become the city’s largest co-working facility.

WeWork. Photo: Tracey Taylor
The reception area at the newly opened WeWork in downtown Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

WeWork offers start-ups, freelancers and small companies a variety of workspace options, ranging from a single chair at a communal desk in an open-plan room (around $450 per month), to a 13-person office with its own conference room. It costs $2,000-$2,400 a month for a four-person office, depending on factors such as whether it has windows. (As a comparison, $2,250 per month will get you a lease on 724 square feet of office space in the Wells Fargo building downtown, according to the city of Berkeley.)

Like many co-working spaces — and the reason the model is becoming increasingly popular — WeWork offers communal areas for meetings and hang-outs, shared kitchens with complimentary coffee and tea, private booths where you can make phone calls and, perhaps most importantly, a chance to socialize and network with others, be they entrepreneurs, professionals or people working in the nonprofit sector.

WeWork. Photo: Tracey Taylor
A six-person office at WeWork in Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The communal areas in WeWork’s Berkeley space are designed in an upbeat, retro-modern way, with distressed wood, quirky touches and a collection of eclectic art.

Interest in the offices has been high, Anderson reported. The currently available space over three floors is already 60% full, she said. Companies that have already snagged spots there include PR and marketing firm BrandX, Arubixs, which specializes in wearable smartphones, and the Small Business Development Center.

WeWork was founded in New York City by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey in 2010. It is the national leader in the co-working office space movement, according to Forbes which, in a November 2014 article on the company, estimated WeWork would have revenues of more than $400 million this year. The founders forecast that, as they continue to raise money, WeWork could be valued at $6 billion in 2015, making both of them paper billionaires.

WeWork. Photo: Tracey Taylor
A communal area and kitchen on one floor of the newly opened WeWork Berkeley. Photo: Tracey Taylor

WeWork is leasing the University Avenue building from San Francisco-based Soma Capital Partners, which acquired it last February. The office building was constructed in 1983 and used by Berkeley Labs for many years. (It was also home to the Biryani House restaurant on the ground floor, until it shuttered last year.) Before WeWork took over the lease, the main building had stood empty for about eight years, according to Soma Capital’s Jordan Caspari.

Office space is known to be in short supply in Berkeley. The Downtown Area Plan allows for an office building with a maximum height of 120 feet, but so far no developers have bitten. They say offices don’t “pencil out,” said the city of Berkeley’s economic development manager Michael Caplan.

“It’s more lucrative for developers to build housing,” Caplan said.

This view is echoed by Caspari: “There is very little office space [in Berkeley]. UC Berkeley buys most of the buildings, which leaves very little inventory/supply for lease to companies. Rents have historically been too low to support new development.”

But demand is there, said Caplan, not least as companies look to the East Bay for more affordable options than San Francisco.

WeWork. Photo: Tracey Taylor
A booth at WeWork Berkeley for meetings or conversations . Photo: Tracey Taylor

Several co-working spaces have opened downtown over the past few years, including Sandbox Suites in 2010, and NextSpace in the summer of 2013. At 9,000 square feet, NextSpace, on the ground and first floors of the Wells Fargo building, is the second largest co-working outfit in Berkeley. Erin Griffin, its community curator, said there is a waiting list for offices at NextSpace, such is their popularity. (Disclosure: Berkeleyside is a member of NextSpace.)

Impact Hub, which opened in the David Brower Center in 2009, provides space for companies focused on social or environmental issues. And UC Berkeley’s Skydeck accelerator, part of The Berkeley Startup Cluster, is a magnet for tech startups, not least those conceived at Cal.

Caplan said WeWork is a “fantastic” addition to Berkeley.

“I’m glad to see that building being re-used. WeWork is another element in our cluster of available office spaces,” he said.

WeWork Berkeley is having its official grand opening, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony organized by the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, and set to include Mayor Tom Bates, on Feb. 26.

Learn more about office space available in Berkeley, as compiled by the city’s Office of Economic Development. Visit WeWork Berkeley online and read more about WeWork on its company website.

NextSpace to open new co-working offices in Berkeley (04.11.14)
Startups value Skydeck for views, closeness to Cal (06.25.12)
Skydeck hopes to boost Berkeley-based tech startups (03.01.12)
Berkeley for startups: perfect spot or braindrain in action? (02.09.12)
Skydeck innovation center receives $50,000 boost (07.15.11)

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...