The right space is important for any business, but for creative professionals, it can be make or break. Good design and amenities can truly inspire creative professionals to do their best work. Problems like poor lighting or muddled acoustics, on the other hand, can make the job literally impossible for a designer or producer.
Location further complicates issues. While telecommuting has made job location more flexible overall, creative professions are often the exception. If you’re an agency, entertainer or professional services firm, the state, city and even part of town you live in determines your business prospects (or lack thereof). However, the creative centers that can power your career also have some of the most challenging retail markets.
Here’s a guide to finding and building out a creative office space in the nation’s creative capitals, and across the country.
Known as Music City, Nashville has always been at the heart of country music. It’s known for its high production values and iconic artists, from Bill Monroe and Patsy Cline, to modern country stars like Sturgill Simpson. But today, Nashville isn’t just the home of country. Starting in May 2016, Nashville topped the nation in job growth, at 4 percent, and was seeing as many as 100 new arrivals every day. While the boom may have peaked, it hasn’t ended, with new residents and businesses continuing to fill the city.
That’s good news for the economy, but it can make finding a space more difficult for creative professionals, according to Cameron Bice, Associate Advisor for TenantBase serving the Nashville Market.
“The continued ‘BOOM’ of Nashville is bringing waves of outside investment, transplant residents, and more businesses into the market. The increasing rental rates and low vacancy rates has created a landlord-favored market which does not favor these types of businesses,” says Bice.
“Many local owners have sold or are selling off their portfolios. Likewise, many smaller, creative options are being redeveloped — both of those factors make existing spaces harder to find and more expensive to lease. Many long-time tenants that are in the music industry or creatives have been priced out of their current locations with few viable options to fall back on.”
Rising prices and scarce real estate are a fact of life in many cities, but Nashville poses its own challenges for creative professionals in particular. Local landlords are less flexible, requiring longer leases and often putting more of the cost on the tenants, says Bice.
“Minimum term limits of three or more years do not fit many companies’ longer-term plans, especially start-ups. A three-year term can seem daunting from the starting line, but it is very tough to find shorter-term deals in Nashville outside of a sublease or coworking option. Landlords can stick to their guns a little more because if group A ends up not working out, groups B, C, and D are often lined up at the door.”
This market condition also impacts buildouts.
“Landlords are not as willing to come out of pocket for build-out expenses and do not have to be as flexible for their tenants.
Any amount of build-out makes a deal more complicated. In Nashville, architects and contractors are up to their eyes with work, and the building permit and codes office has a ton going on as well. It can take several months before any actual construction begins.
I tell my clients that a build-out is almost always going to cost more and take longer than expected and typically the cost only goes up and the timeline only gets longer as the buildout commences.”
Bice recommends discussing your needs with the landlord as early as possible, particularly if your creative office space requires noise proofing or other complex work.
“If the tenant will be producing music or making a lot of noise in the space, it is better that the owner and their broker know that up front so we can assess and deal with it rather than two months into the lease when the neighboring tenants become frustrated.
Lighting is a good value-add to a building that can greatly improve the overall look as well as the building’s energy efficiency. It is a little easier to get the owners on board with paying to upgrade lighting as it holds value long-term and will improve the space for the next user as well. It is more difficult to get owners to pay for tenant-specific build outs that may not be congruent with future users.”
Nashville may have the title of Music City, but these days Atlanta may be the true music capital of the South. Particularly in the genre of hip hop, the city has been home to innovative superstars for decades, including Outkast, Run the Jewels’ Killer Mike and TLC. But Atlanta isn’t just a home for music. The city has become such a major destination for entrepreneurs that Fast Company recently called it “America’s new startup capital.”
Atlanta’s rapid growth and rich artistic history have made it a great destination for creatives. However, with economic growth comes new challenges, particularly for companies and entrepreneurs looking for creative space in the city, as TenantBase Senior Advisor, Todd Seaman explains:
“The Atlanta market is very competitive right now for well-located, quality space, and landlords hold the edge due to supply/demand factors. I let potential clients know early on that they need to have business financial information ready to go so when we find the right space we can move quickly to secure the space.”
As in other cities with high demand, landlords have begun asking for longer tenant commitments, which can be a challenge for businesses, Seaman says.
“Minimum three-year lease terms are a requirement. if companies need more flexibility then I let them know about co-working options in the market.”
Seaman also points out that the state of the market poses extra challenges for the startups and creatives who put Atlanta on the map.
“Landlords are very hesitant when it comes to music producers and entertainers due to sound concerns and the number of visitors they may have. Also, creatives generally have higher parking count requirements which is why public transit options or public parking options are so important.”
However, tenants may struggle most with just finding the right office at the right price.
”Finding quality space that is available in the market is the single biggest challenge in Atlanta,” says Seaman. “Most well located/fairly priced options have limited availability.”
To meet these challenges, you may need to consider not just the building and lease, but also neighborhood amenities, and even the needs of your neighbors.
“I worked with an acting school headquartered in LA that wanted to establish an Atlanta office. The three biggest challenges were parking, sound created during business hours and limited budget, since this was their first office in town.
I found a building with overflow street parking and a landlord that would accept the use. I helped them meet with neighbors prior to signing the lease to discuss our use and ensure potentially loud acting scenes wouldn’t interfere with their business causing a potential lease default situation.”
One thing Atlanta creatives should keep in mind is the need to balance aesthetic and functional needs. In creative office space, says Seaman, “aesthetics play a bigger role than pure function.”
“Creatives want a bit of the ‘cool’ factor for recruiting and employee retention. Walkable amenities are very important so a car can almost be optional during the workday with public transportation a huge plus.”
However, it’s equally important to “make sure that the space meets the functional needs of the business.”
“Open space is great for collaboration and team building but open ceiling systems and polished concrete flooring don’t do a great job keeping the noise level down for telephone calls. Make sure to plan for small call rooms for private/quiet phone conversations.”
While dearth of availability may necessitate some compromises, you should still ask the landlord to contribute to the cost of necessary buildout, Seaman says.
“Try to push landlords to make any necessary lighting upgrades as part of base building improvements that don’t count against the tenant improvement allowance provided in the lease. Make the case that space improvements that have value beyond my client’s tenancy shouldn’t count dollar for dollar against the deal.”
As a creative center, Los Angeles needs no introduction. The home of Hollywood, Los Angeles is also a capital of the recording industry, and a major player in everything from design to tech startups.
But starting a creative business in LA isn’t easy. The city was a winner in the recent economic boom, outperforming even New York. However, while that growth created new business opportunities, it also increased the economic challenges for startups and others renting real estate. In just one year, Los Angeles rose four spots in cost of living ranking, becoming the 10th most expensive city on the planet, according to the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey.
Additionally, LA is notoriously difficult to get around, known for massive traffic jams and sprawl. This makes finding the right location even more important — and more difficult — than it is in most cities.
In this difficult market, coworking spaces have become a very popular option for small businesses. Depending on the location, coworking spaces can start under $300 per month, and there are spaces that cater specifically to the unique needs (and tight budgets) of creatives.
One such space is The Muse Room, offering private offices starting at $550 per month in the NOHO Arts District and Burbank. Run by a husband-wife team, the Muse Room is a great choice for startups and entrepreneurs who need an affordable space in a creative environment.
One benefit of locating your creative business in LA and the surrounding area is the wealth of talent available to renovate it for your company. Build outs and renovations often work best as a collaborative process, combining multiple design perspectives to make the best space possible.
One commercial interior designer who champions this collaborative approach is Jessica Rose, founder of Rose Studio Interiors. Rose says she started her company to serve “small business and startups who strive to create a space that supports productivity, success and the well being of everyone who steps through their doors.”
In a recent project, she worked with a local production company to transform a loft space in downtown San Diego into “a series of photo & video sets, as well as a venue for a variety of rentals and their personal workspace.”
“The process for creating this space was highly collaborative,” says Rose. “The clients knew what they wanted for the most part, and as photographers and videographers they really knew what type of shots their clients were after. We all got to be creative in thinking about ways to create and build multiple sets that would act as the background for all of the different types of individuals and companies who would be using them.
“The challenge was ensuring that there was something for everyone, but that there were also elements unique enough to set this space apart from other studios. Sourcing items and materials was another challenge because I was looking for pieces that blended well with their collection of vintage finds, were durable enough to handle a lot of use while being cost effective.”
Rose encourages other creatives to get their community involved to create an ideal space.
“Between both of our studios, we had plenty of amazing creative friends and colleagues we could work with to make the space really special.
“Another tip would be to hire a professional, even if it's just for consulting — getting things like paint colors and building details right make a huge difference — and so does being able to think outside the box and have some really unique features that make your space stand out.”
The commercial real estate industry is in a period of rapid evolution. There are new ways of dividing and sharing spaces, changing trends in office design, and innovative approaches to finding the right commercial space. Increasingly, creative businesses are going outside the traditional paradigms and building customized solutions that fit their needs — not just in big cities, but across the country.
That’s what wife and husband team, Trish and Marcos Digliodo did in 2015, when they turned an old Catholic church property into Paramount Co-Op. Located in Ambridge, PA near Pittsburgh.
The building itself is a microcosm of the way real estate changes over time, to meet the needs of new communities. Originally built to serve the immigrants who flocked to Ambridge to work at the American Bridge company, the church became a community center for Slovaks — one of the many ethnicities that settled in Ambridge.
“After a consolidation of Catholic Churches in the mid-nineties, this property passed through multiple owners and was deteriorating. We purchased it and converted the classrooms into private offices and coworking space. We now operate a business incubator here and help people start their dream businesses! The property also has a rectory where the priest used to live. We renovated this space and now live here.”
Renovating the decaying church was not without its challenges. The building had rusted cast iron pipes, inadequate electricity, and no air conditioning. Because it was an old building, it required expensive changes to meet modern ADA requirements, and unexpected structural issues (including a collapsed beam) also raised the cost.
Trish encourages people building out their creative space to not get overwhelmed by taking on too much early in the project.
“We started with the coworking space so we could generate revenue as soon as it was finished. Then, we did one office at a time and rented them to generate more revenue. It’s a bit like the saying ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ Had we tried to do the project all at once, it would have been overwhelming.”
Whether you’re looking for a traditional office space, coworking space or co-op, the right creative space is out there. Read our guide to the commercial leasing process, or contact us to help you find it.