WeWork is intent on incorporating a sense of “community” into the 200,000-SF workspace it hopes to break ground on later this year in downtown Bentonville.
WeWork is a 9-year-old New York company that builds and runs shared office spaces in more than 100 cities worldwide. It announced April 1 that it would expand its operations to Bentonville at a soon-to-be-developed space at 224 S. Main St. that it hopes to open in 2021.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was at the announcement and praised the coupling.
“I am always grateful when a company chooses to locate in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “Northwest Arkansas is a good fit for WeWork, where the company’s vision will dovetail with the innovative spirit and the entrepreneurial spirit that has made northwest Arkansas one of the fastest-growing areas of our nation.”
The allure of having a workspace in Bentonville was strong because of the major companies headquartered in the area but also because of the growing entrepreneur community.
“It is an extremely unique city, but it is also filled with both creative and large enterprise companies,” said Bobby Condon, the company’s general manager for the southeastern United States. “If you look at our model and what we have been striving to support the last nine years, it is to create a sense of community for all businesses, regardless of the size of the business.”
Condon said the sense of community is obvious in Bentonville, which is why WeWork plans to be meticulous in its planning. WeWork is working with the private equity firm Center City LLC to develop the property, and WeWork brought in famed Mexican architect Michel Rojkind to design the building.
WeWork and Rojkind will work with local contractors on the final design, which Condon said has to blend in with the existing Bentonville “identity.”
“It is extremely important for us that it works and feels like we are Bentonville,” Condon said. “We think about the local community; we highlight local businesses. If it doesn’t look and operate like Bentonville, then we haven’t done our jobs.
“We have been working over the last year with Center City and a lot of local partners to really understand what makes Bentonville special and a place where everyone wants to live. The local community is really prideful about that area. We want to add to that, not detract from that.”
Rojkind, in an April interview with Architectural Record, said the building will be more than just a workspace to be used by big and small businesses.
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“I hope this first project will show how open and flexible we are — even though WeWork is a huge company, we don’t want to come in and do everything ourselves,” Rojkind said. “What [Center City] asked for was an office building, but we’re looking at how we can activate it with other components, like education, culture. We are asking questions like, ‘How does the building become a platform for engaging society?’ and ‘What can the building offer to this community?’
“We’re learning from the history of the place, the houses and the porches, the bike trails all over Bentonville. We’re trying to be receptive to all that and then deliver a tailor-made project.”
Space for 3,200
Whatever the final design, Condon said, the project will have space for 3,200 people to work and network and build their businesses. Some workers at the site will already have successful businesses — Condon said many national and global corporations will look at a WeWork site as a way to have a northwest Arkansas office.
WeWork will staff the building and handle all the distracting operational details such as IT service, food and building maintenance.
“We feel we provide an amazing platform and support system that allows our members to really focus on what is important and what they are passionate about,” Condon said. “That is to grow their business and make an impact on the world. If we take all the burdensome tasks of a business away from them, they can focus on connecting their network and scaling their business.”