Mesa’s downtown opportunity zone lands coworking giant Launch Pad

Launch Pad, a national network of coworking spaces that targets communities in opportunity zones, is coming to historic downtown Mesa. 

The coworking giant lures freelancers, entrepreneurs and startups with low monthly leases and high tech modernized spaces in “momentum markets,” said Anne Driscoll, CEO and co-founder. 

It also invests in people and companies that need it most, said Driscoll, who announced the project virtually Tuesday with a host of public and private officials including Mesa Mayor John Giles and Arizona U.S. Senator Martha McSally.  

Driscoll and her husband and co-founder, Chris Schultz, started Launch Pad in 2009 to “create the world’s strongest network of people working entrepreneurially.”

Today, they have coworking sites in opportunity zones in midsize cities across the nation. With COVID-19, the concept is now more important than ever, Driscoll said. 

“Coworking spaces are where you can maintain your professional  environment, you can hang your shingle, you can start a business, or you can work remotely without your kids and your dog in the background,” she said. 

Community renewal through entrepreneurship 

Launch Pad also has created a foundation to remove barriers for underrepresented individuals and companies to provide education, mentorship and scholarships and a venture fund to aid in startup success.

Since its founding, the company and its members have generated more than 9,000 jobs and raised more than $230 million in new capital, focusing on sites in culturally significant buildings in emerging “quality of life” markets like Stockton, Calif.; Newark, N.J.; Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.

Partnering with real estate investment firm, Caliber 

The project is in partnership with the city of Mesa and Caliber, a Scottsdale-based real estate investment firm that is considered a market leader in finding investors for opportunity zones. These designated zones, produced from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, are intended to stimulate new investment in low-income and distressed communities. 

Courtesy of Caliber.

For Mesa, there is a possibility to bring “hundreds of businesses and lots and lots of people” to downtown, said Rodney Riley, Caliber’s director of acquisitions and development.

In addition to the Launch Pad site, Caliber has purchased nine other historic Main Street buildings for approximately $15 million during the past two years. 

Modern touches in historic downtown building 

Housed in the 1949 J.J. Newberry Department Store at 114 W. Main Street, the 20,000-square-foot coworking Launch Pad is scheduled to open next year. 

Among the host of amenities that will be available 24/7 are ergonomic workstations including standup desks, private phone booths, more than 67 individual offices of varying sizes, high speed wi-fi, a sound system, and a fully operational retro-style freight elevator. 

Newberry’s old soda fountain will be refurbished into a common area with a kitchen stocked with unlimited free local coffee and beer on tap.

Mesa downtown resurgence 

The Launch Pad is the latest feather in the city’s cap as it welcomes yet another project to downtown.

Mesa leaders have worked strategically for the past decade to turn around the sleepy downtown. Since 1997, there has been more than $220 million in public and private investment. That includes light rail that whisks riders to the nearby growing Asian district with food markets, restaurants and shops. 

New ASU campus to create tech hub in downtown Mesa 

The Launch Pad coworking project will likely be a meeting and work spot for students and graduates of the new Arizona State University (ASU) campus under construction in downtown Mesa, company officials said.   

Also set to open next year, the campus will be designed to be a world-class technology hub dedicated to digital innovation, ASU President Michael Crow said when the project was announced last year.

“This will be the place with everything digital you can possibly imagine, every level of creativity, every level of new company idea and spinout in science and technology and the arts,” Crow said. “If you travel around the world, there are a few significant digital innovation centers that exist — in Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, New York City. We’re building one for the Western United States here in Mesa.

The new ASU Mesa location will house the ASU Creative Futures Laboratory, including academic programs offered by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts related to digital and sensory technology, experiential design, gaming, media arts, film production, and entrepreneurial development and support.

The new Launch Pad Mesa facility expects to play a key role in supporting graduates of ASU at Mesa City Center, which serves as an incubator for tech students.

“These young entrepreneurs will breathe new life into the community, creating more businesses and jobs that will require a space to collaborate and explore ideas,” Caliber president Jennifer Schrader said. “People will gather on Main Street like they did 50 years ago, only instead of shopping and having lunch they will be exchanging ideas, creating opportunities and building the innovative companies of the future.”

Victoria Harker

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