OAKLAND -- The idea started out simply enough: a space for creative types to work that wasn't an office, wasn't a living room and didn't trap them in the middle of a noisy cafe. They would converge and create new models for a country trying to find its way through unemployment, recession and questions about the future.
Two years, five months and nearly $2 million in the making, the Impact Hub Oakland co-working space opened Feb. 10.
The co-working model became popular several years ago and the Hub was not the first in Oakland. But the size, the location and the nature of the $1.8 million project in an abandoned car showroom on Broadway Auto Row marks Oakland's efforts to replace the fading generation of businesses with something new.
"It is a dynamic living space right now," said Ashara Ekundayo, Hub Oakland's co-founder and chief creative officer. She and several other Hub fellow stewards had just wrapped up a weekend hackathon that tested the Hub's physical design and bandwidth.
Monday marked the official opening and clusters of workers sat with laptops -- the essential accessory for the co-working set -- at bamboo plywood tables made by a West Oakland artist. The tags still hung from the high-backed office chairs.
Upstairs, a woman in cherry-red rain boots occasionally stopped writing to mouth the words she had just typed. Two men chatted quietly on a burgundy sofa. The kitchen downstairs was stocked with the essentials of the co-worker space: kombucha on tap, fair trade coffee and rocket-fast Internet.
"We're all on our laptops," said Alli Chagi-Starr, an original member of Hub Oakland when it was still in its temporary home at 1423 Broadway. Chagi-Starr is an independent consultant and regional director of the San Francisco Green Festival. On Monday she was preparing for a business meeting, something difficult to do in a cafe or at home.
"Every time I'm here I have conversations with people I couldn't have predicted," she said. "And it happens spontaneously."
Some of the people working there Monday were taking advantage of the Hub's offer of free use during business hours until Feb. 28. After that, everyone will pay for time-based memberships: $50 for 10 hours a month and as much as $415 a month for unlimited use.
"I like how dynamic it is," said Zac Taylor of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, or BALLE. "It definitely speaks to changes in how we work and collaborate."
BALLE made the Hub its Bay Area headquarters and moved into two of the 21 glass-fronted offices -- all of them already filled by organizations with similar socially-minded missions.
"I love seeing this coming into the neighborhood," said Taylor's colleague, Susan Miller, a senior business development adviser. The two were finishing their ginger miso chicken salad from the Sweet Bar Bakery a few doors down on Broadway. She called the Hub a sign of "positive momentum." But she hesitated over one particular concern: The ability to concentrate deeply in a setting where isolation is at a premium and noise is abundant. They are two of eight employees sharing six desks. There is no place for leaving work-related documents and supplies.
The popularity of co-working boomed during the recession when businesses started looking for a way to cut costs and freelancers, temps, independent contractors and "solopreneurs" began to multiply. The Bureau of Labor expects their numbers to hit 65 million by 2020.
The Port of Oakland operates two co-working spaces near Jack London Square.
Tech Liminal, a technology salon, expanded its communal offerings by moving to a street-level office in a Webster Street building shared with Ask.com. Oakstop Oakland offers co-working space and the Hub Oakland occupied two temporary locations since January 2012 before they combined 2315 and 2323 Broadway to create their permanent 16,000-square-foot home.
Impact Hub is part of an international network that emerged nearly a decade ago in London. Rather than techies trying to bootstrap the next billion-dollar startup, the goal was to offer a communal space for untethered social innovators.
"We started with zero," said Konda Mason, Oakland Hub CEO and lifetime freelancer. That was October 2011. They had one Ikea table and four chairs and began raising money with a team of seven that included social entrepreneurs like Lisa Chacon and Numi Organic Tea co-founder Ahmed Rahim.
Some of the capital came from the city of Oakland. The largest donor was Fund Good Jobs, a philanthropic investment group aligned with Inner City Advisors, which also occupies an office upstairs. Two Oakland residents donated $10,000 each during a Kickstarter campaign. One of them sat at a desk on Monday, laptop open.