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What does the future of Indy Hall look like?

11 minute read
by Alex Hillman

That’s for us to decide.

This post has the potential to impact every member of Indy Hall – and possibly more people beyond our membership.

So if you’re reading this, it’s SO important to me that you read it carefully and completely. I don’t think I’ve ever meant that more than I do today.

For the last few years, we’ve been getting some (usually friendly) pressure from our landlord to consider purchasing the space that we’ve come to call home for Indy Hall. From the start, they’ve made it clear that their plan is to sell it either way – if not to us, to another property investor.

But in this email, the pressure took a different form.

In this email, I learned that our landlords had decided to respond to the “growing demand and rising market rates” in the neighborhood, and surprised us with a 60%+ increase to renew our lease for the ground floor. An increase that would’ve taken effect yesterday, June 1st.

For the last few weeks, I’ve had one mission: to make sure that on June 1st, we still had an active lease for the ground floor…and that it came with as FEW changes that would impact our community as possible.

And the good news is that I’ve succeeded in the effort of buying us some more time

I was able to negotiate a 3 month extension on our previous lease terms (with no other changes besides the end date) so that we could get our upstairs and downstairs leases synchronized, and figure out a plan moving forward.

The less good news…

…is that I was only able to buy SOME time.

  • On Sept 1st of this year (3 months from now), we’re expecting a rent increase of ~20% of our overall monthly rent (which is currently almost $17,000/month). I’ve negotiated this down a fair bit already…but it’s an increase we currently cannot afford.

  • Alternatively, we have the option to downsize the ground floor to just the north half, meaning we’d lose the classroom space, the Phone Hoods, and of course a good chunk of workspace. They’ll rent us the partial ground floor at a reduced rate per square foot, so they can rent out the other side with basement access.

Clearly, neither of these options are good for us.

And they really only buy us another 15 months because…

  • On Sept 1st of NEXT year (2016), if we don’t purchase the space, our landlord (or whomever they sell to) has the ability to hike our rent to whatever they’re deeming “market”…which right now they’re convinced is close to 2x what we currently pay.

It’s not lost on me that the “growing demand and rising market rates” are partly due to our community and successes to date. We’ve gotten to grow and evolve with Old City and some of our closest small business friends, including Weblinc, I-Site, and of course our original watering hole National Mechanics.

Many people whose businesses outgrew Indy Hall intentionally have chosen to stay in the neighborhood: MyClin, Arcweb, Vandegrift, Wildbit, Freckle, and Flyclops, just to name a few.

And many, many more businesses have chosen to move to our neighborhood in no small part because of our anchor in the community, which as of last year even got it’s own name and citywide recognition by making “N3rd St” an official designation from City Hall.

Now that I’ve effectively buried the lede so far: if we don’t purchase our space, Indy Hall will need to look for a new home.

I’ve been thinking a lot about changes

As a personal aside, if I’ve recently seemed distracted or distanced recently when you tried talking to me, or I’ve hesitated with an answer to a question…I’m sorry, and this post should help explain why.

It’s easy to take for granted how much Indy Hall has changed in the last 8 years. And how much has changed around us. Very few people who have been a part of Indy Hall are doing the exact same thing they did when they started. The Indy Hall community itself has changed in many ways – not just in size, but in how our community interacts and the kinds of ways we support each other. We’ve grown upward, we’ve grown outward, and we’ve grown inward too.

I often remark to people how I really don’t get to decide what Indy Hall is going to “grow up” to be, and it hasn’t been entirely my decision in a long while. The best job I can do is to listen, and to be a guide.

Throughout the year, we experience countless changes of varying scale – many are simple, subtle, and notable improvements. Many of these changes are made by hands of members just like you. They might have even been made by you.

This upcoming weekend’s REBOOT is a very tangible example of how valuable change can be – even when it comes with some short term pain. We’ve seen this time and again with the strong encouragement to find a new place to sit, and new people to sit with.

This is one of the very few times that we get close to enforcing a change, and we do it sparingly because we know how painful it can feel to have change imposed on you. And we only choose to do it when there’s clear and significant upsides to you, and to other people in the community.

If you think about how much Indy Hall has evolved over the last 8 years…it’s not hard to imagine how much we could evolve over the next 8 years to come.

What if we embraced the chaos?

It was actually strikingly poetic when I realized that August 2016 marks the 10 year anniversary of when I started the journey that would lead to Indy Hall’s inception. A milestone like that is worth celebrating – but it’s also one worth reflecting on.

The question I’ve been asking myself, and really the main thing that’s kept me sane for the last month, is “What could Indy Hall be in 2 years? 5 years? 8 years? What does this community look like in 2025?”

Even if I put the pressure from our landlord out of the picture momentarily, and I think purely about how far we’ve come, and the strengths we’ve demonstrated over and over as a community, it’s actually hard for me to imagine Indy Hall looking and running the exact same way 5 years from now.

So if we embrace the chaos and constraints we’re being dealt – what could we become? What do we WANT to become?

Can we turn this frustrating ultimatum into a better set of options for ourselves in the long term?

The more I sit with this question, the more confident I’ve become in our ability to turn this into a long term benefit. The only question is which direction we choose to head.

At this point, there are no foregone conclusions, only facts

It’s been painful, and out of character for me, to have kept this information as long as I have. And I’ve only done so because I didn’t want to show up with bad news AND no starting point for answering questions, or to make the negotiation process with our landlord any harder than it needed to be.

At this point, we have a good sense of our landlord’s negotiation priorities. We know a timeline we’re working within. And we have some concrete dollar figures to know what we’re trying to accomplish. This means we can start having informed conversations about different ways to solve the problem of where we call home for the future.

Here are a few more things we know:

  • A purchase of this space is most likely out of our reach. And if we wanted to buy, this space may not be the right one (in spite of our emotional connection to it). Edit: but this discussion is absolutely still open, especially to creative ideas & options.

  • We’ll have some new costs to bear starting in 3 months, and I’m sure many people’s first thought is “shit, membership prices are gonna go up”. While that’s certainly one option, I want to brainstorm more ideas and options to help bridge that gap. What new things we can do to create more value with what we’ve already got? This includes new levels of membership that are focused on things other than renting desks: things like learning new skills, growing our businesses, etc.

  • Negotiation isn’t over until somebody says “yes”. So I’m still on the lookout for alternative options that we could execute by the end of the summer…and beyond. We could use some experienced allies to help us determine fact from fiction when it comes to frothy market negotiation.

  • Longer term decisions still don’t need to be “forever” decisions. We should still continue to “think big and act small,” seeking experiments rather than accepting so-called inevitabilities.

  • Inevitably, ALL of these factors will have an impact on choices we have to make, large and small, in the coming months.

And most of all – we can get back to being open and transparent about this process, and figure this out together. I’m keeping the most open mind I possibly can, and I feel strongly that if ANY group of people can figure this out…it’s the Indy Hall community.

Priority #1 stays the same: the community

Indy Hall has gotten physically bigger by adding more square footage over the years. But sometimes, it’s hard to remember that our community created this place, not the other way around. This place – the walls and the pillars, the desks, chairs, power, and internet – are relative commodities.

What’s irreplaceable is the relationships that form between people in this community. The support and inspiration we give each other. The generosity and excitement that comes from doing something we never knew was possible. The trust we all place in each other to help make each day just a little bit better than the last one.

So long as we keep our priorities and our values in view, I’m 100% confident that we only stand to become the best version of Indy Hall we’ve seen yet.

Even during this weekend’s Reboot – where we put more emphasis on making improvements to the space than any other time of year – we need to remind ourselves and each other that the REASON we do it is because if it weren’t for each other, this particular space wouldn’t be worth sharing.

Let’s talk

The most important thing to me about sending this email is opening up the dialogue. I haven’t shared anything in this email that I consider private, and I much prefer it that way.

I’ve taken the time to collect my thoughts so I could write them here, and it wasn’t easy. I’ve gone through a lot of emotions – surprise, frustration, anger, dismay, and more before I felt the way I do now. Which, as I hope comes across in this post, is optimistic. I truly do feel optimistic.

So I’ll be the first to acknowledge that it might take some time for you to process this, but I’d also encourage you NOT to go through that alone.

  • Come talk to me. We can speak one on one or in groups, whichever you prefer.

  • Talk to the people in the community you trust, and care about the most. I encourage you to speak to each other, but also to share what you discuss with me.

  • This is also an opportunity to talk to the people in the community you don’t know very well yet – because now you have a common challenge. We all do.

My only request is that you keep your mind open and your thoughts honest.

My door is open (j/k I don’t have a door on my office cuz I work at Indy Hall) and I’m personally inviting each of you to walk through it.

But since I’m not always in the room at Indy Hall or I might appear busy, here’s all of the ways to reach me if and when you’re ready to talk:

Thank you for reading, and for being a part of this community with me.

Let’s see what we can create by embracing the chaos,

-Alex

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.