New coworking community transforms vacant space into Chinatown enterprise hub

By Brie Ripley, UW News Lab — In what was once a Korean Restaurant more than a decade ago, Hing Hay Coworks, a space for creative co-working, is taking over the formerly abandoned space within Chinatown’s historic Bush Hotel.

By Brie Ripley, UW News Lab — In what was once a Korean Restaurant more than a decade ago, Hing Hay Coworks, a space for creative co-working, is taking over the formerly abandoned space within Chinatown’s historic Bush Hotel.

Community leaders could not help but notice the former vacancy—their offices are right below it. The Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda), a non-profit organization focused on promoting Chinatown has been working for a while to come up with a financially viable way to revitalize the building.

“The building was a shell of its former self,” Quang Nguyen said. “It used to be fully active back in the day, but because it is such an old building, it sat vacant and underutilized because it was so expensive to get it back in its prime.”

Nguyen has two important roles in the Chinatown International District. He has been the Senior Economic Development Specialist for SCIDpda for more than two years and involved with the organization for over five. More recently, he has been the manager for Hing Hay Coworks.

SCIDpda is a city-chartered public development authority. They have a history of empowering community members through programs like IDEAspace—a multifaceted support program committed to providing community members with resources to improve shared public space, prevent crime, develop real estate, and assist small business owners.

In 2010, a subcommittee housed under SCIDpda that Nguyen worked on was strategizing ways to reverse the impacts of the Great Recession on the Chinatown community. There was an 18 percent commercial vacancy rate at the time.

The vacancy within the historic Bush Hotel along King Street was part of the problem that needed solved.
Nguyen pitched the idea of creating a business incubator to fill the vacant space to the executive staff at SCIDpda.

“The idea evolved into a coworking model when I came across this concept during my research of incubators,” said Nguyen. “We were looking for business models that were complementary to the type of businesses we already have in the neighborhood, mainly restaurants and food service businesses. I saw that a coworking space would align nicely with our mission of preservation and revitalization of the neighborhood.”

In 2013, Nguyen and the Executive Director of SCIDpda, Maiko Winkler-Chin, took the idea to Olympia. They pitched the coworking space idea to 20 state legislators and won a $485,000 grant for the project.

What is coworking? It is unlike leasing an individual office space and more like paying for (one-time or monthly) membership access to a collaborative office community.

Journalist Lynne Peeples utilizes a coworking space on Capitol Hill called Office Nomads about once per week. Coworking provides workers like Peeples an opportunity for interaction with others in a social work space.

“You’ve got web developers working alongside architects and editors,” Peeples said. “There’s a diverse array of stuff going on that keeps the energy high and the exposure to more people and more ideas constant.”

The new Hing Hay Coworks will focus on providing space for community-minded digital and technical entrepreneurs, including designers, web developers, programmers, journalists, bloggers, social media experts, and online content creators.

By creating opportunities for freelancers, boutique firms, and startups to rent affordable shared office space, Nguyen thinks Hing Hay Coworks may be a catalyst for an increasing number of enterprises calling the International District home base.

“When you have people who are very enthusiastic and passionate about what they do, you’ll have a lot of energy that comes out. It will create excitement, and spread out in the community,” said Nguyen.

Office Nomads owner Jacob Sayles agrees.

“As soon as you have a place where self-actualized individuals congregate—people who have designed their own lives like freelancers who have made choices in their careers to fit the lifestyle they want—there is an exponential charge of energy that happens,” Sayles said.

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