Athens set to begin redevelopment of the Armory into a coworking space

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Within the coming weeks, the city of Athens will break ground a project to convert the Armory into a coworking space.

The Athens armory is shown in this photo taken from the street in front of it.
The Athens Armory [WOUB File Photo]

The project will cost $4.5 million, $2 million of which will be provided through the Appalachian Community Grant Program. The remainder of the funds will be provided through the state’s capital budget, leftover American Rescue Plan funds and the city’s capital improvements budget.

“When the guidelines (for the Appalachian Community Grant Program) were dropped in October of 2022, and we saw what was being looked for in the application process, we really kind of honed in and put together a proposal and got it in by the deadline,” said Mayor Steve Patterson.

Athens applied for grant money in conjunction with Coshocton, Somerset and Logan. Of the $50 million allocated for the program’s first round of funding, the Hocking Hills region received $45 million.

One stipulation of the first round of funding is any projects funded had to be ready to begin construction within 90 days of grant money being awarded.

“The whole application process was predicated on round one implementation, you had to be a shovel-ready project,” said Patterson. “We’re just now waiting for the disbursement. We’re ready to put nails in walls and shovels in the ground.”

“The Armory has been ready to go for several weeks. We are in the process of finalizing interior design decisions and some other aspects of the project,” said Zach Reizes, co-founder of local consulting firm Sunday Creek Horizons. “We’re also finalizing details of the grant award with our various funders and we hope to get started on the building in mid-summer.”

Since being sold to the city in 1997, there have been multiple proposals for what to do with the Armory, including an art and cultural center and a commercial kitchen. However, it was only after the pandemic that the idea of turning the Armory into a coworking space for remote workers came together.

“With the pandemic hitting us, it became clear that a good use for that space would be a shared workspace facility,” said Patterson.

Reizes said the main obstacle to these earlier proposals was a lack of funds and a lack of planning for how the space would be run once renovations were complete. The Armory’s anchor tenant will be the Athens County Foundation, while the Armory itself will be managed by Bluedot, a new nonprofit organization.

“The center of gravity didn’t exist to get them off the ground to make sure the money was aligned to do the actual work and to have an organization to run the space,” said Reizes. “We’ve got multiple sources of revenue: from the Athens County Foundation, revenue from renting the main floor of the Armory as an event venue, and fees associated with coworking memberships paid to the organization that will run this space.”

Reizes’ firm became involved with the project to bring more remote work into the city and provide a modern, healthy environment from which to work remotely.

“We are really proud to have developed an economically viable plan for the Armory that shows promise towards being a profitable endeavor and one that also provides ancillary benefit to our entrepreneurs and our nonprofit leaders in the city,” said Reizes.

According to Reizes, the Armory project will not only benefit Athens County, but will benefit visitors and serve as a model for other communities throughout the region.

“There are plans for coworking spaces throughout the Appalachian region. But in many ways, the Armory project is a leader and an example of what a committed community can do to create resources that are modern and will benefit not just their community, but visitors to the community,” said Reizes.