The Pearl opened a new coworking space this week. In doing so it hopes to ride a pandemic tailwind guiding professionals toward flexible work arrangements.

The open-layout office space – boasting amenities like a kitchen, meeting rooms, and private phone booths – is meant to attract people like Patrick Aspell, the owner of a small IT services and consulting firm.

The remote nature of Aspell’s work allows him to plant himself anywhere, but he’s found that pandemic-era Zoom meetings aren’t good for the networking he likes to do. “You can’t pull someone aside and have a conversation with them,” he said.

He’s looking for a place where he can rub elbows with the small business community of San Antonio, which he said he preferred to New York City and Boston, where he was previously splitting his work time. “The sounds of birds are a lot better than the honking in New York,” he said.

The Pearl’s new space, dubbed Pearl Cowork, is a good candidate for him, he said, as it is nearby. But he hasn’t made up his mind about which coworking space to go with.

The increasing prevalence of professionals like Aspell in the city is why David Heard, the CEO of TechBloc, the city’s nonprofit tech advocacy group, said he is “bullish” on the prospect of new coworking spaces.

“Talent and jobs are more freed from geography than ever before,” he said. “That means affordable, livable cities like San Antonio are becoming the cities of choice.”

And for small business owners and employers, coworking spaces offer a happy medium between working-from-home and the traditional office space, he said.

His own company, SecureLogix, for whom he is the chief marketing officer, has moved to a hybrid model in which employees spend some days in the corporate office and some days working remotely.

Plus, Heard said, coworking spaces still have the same appeal that they did before the pandemic: They’re a way for the small fish across industries to collaborate and share office resources.

TechBloc CEO David Heard Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Demand for office space – whether in traditional offices or in new arrangements like coworking facilities – continues to grow in San Antonio, according to a report from Cushman & Wakefield, a real estate services firm. The report says for the first quarter of 2021, office-based employment in the city has not only recovered from its pandemic-related losses but is up 3.7% over the same quarter last year.

A day pass for the Pearl’s new space is $40. A more long-term lease at the space, which spans 10,416 square feet on the second floor of the Full Goods Building at 200 E. Grayson Street, costs $150 per month. That includes a professional address and mail service. Further upgrades such as a dedicated desk or private office run the gamut up to $2,400.

A walk through the empty office spaces on Wednesday afternoon showed it to be full of sleek furniture, modern art, and expansive natural lighting.

“The space lent itself perfectly to coworking,” said Natalie Smith, a property manager at the Pearl. “We didn’t have to move walls. We just gave it a treatment with lighting, paint, carpet, and artwork, and it really transformed the space.”

She and Nikki Lawson, another property manager, launched Pearl Cowork after the space’s previous office tenant exited under the pandemic, and it became clear that filling the space would take much longer than normal.

She expressed an appreciation for the Pearl’s leadership in allowing their proposal – though they are not normally involved with creating the Pearl’s new ventures – to come to fruition.

“It’s a rare opportunity, that we got to help create something that will hopefully live a lot longer than us,” she said. “Whatever the next great idea is that helps San Antonio, maybe it’s birthed out of this space.”

Pearl Cowork joins a host of coworking spaces in San Antonio whose numbers and prospects shrank under the worst of the pandemic.

Heard said that roughly a fifth of the 26 coworking spaces TechBloc logged at the beginning of 2020 didn’t make it to the end of the year. Some operations were forced to shutter, like the Annex on De Zavala Road, which has converted itself into an online community.

Geekdom, a tech-oriented coworking space and startup incubator, saw its membership drop from 1,800 to around 1,500 at the beginning of the pandemic.

Geekdom’s CEO, Charles Woodin, welcomed the addition of the Pearl Cowork, which he said is an “amazing option” for startups that launch out of Geekdom, according to a Pearl press release.

“Pearl Cowork offers a great place for these established companies and professionals to land,” he said, “and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them to the neighborhood.”

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.