PART 1: Edney Center new home of CO.LAB

CO.LAB(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a three-part series focused on Chattanooga’s new Edney Innovation Center and plans for the building.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Mike Bradshaw describes the Edney Innovation Center as a “symbolic marker of the progress this city has made in the last five to seven years.”

The city the Executive Director of CO.LAB is referencing is obviously Chattanooga, and the Center is the 10-story building that the Tennessee Valley Authority owned for 65 years before it was acquired in May by a group of Scenic City investors.

Today, three organizations that are key players in Chattanooga’s vibrant innovation ecosystem have moved into the building. They are CO.LAB, which runs a number of programs including the “GIGTANK”; Society of Work, a two-year old plus organization that outgrew its initial co-working space; and The Enterprise Center, the public-private partnership charged with implementing the vision for the city Innovation District.

More tenants are coming as the space is renovated for a variety of uses that support the vision for the Innovation District.

We visited Chattanooga recently to get a tour of the facility and chat with Bradshaw and Tia Capps, CO.LAB’s Communications Director. The always effervescent Bradshaw did not disappoint us with his description of the visionary plans.

Right now, access to the Edney Center is from 11th Street, even though the official address is 1100 Market Street. That will change when a large first floor room fronting Market Street is converted into the front door for all tenants.

Bradshaw describes the new entrance as becoming the “public activation space” that will include an interactive representation of the Innovation District.

Whether from the current entrance or the new one, the first program visible to visitors is CO.LAB’s new space, a clearly intentional decision. It is accessible via a real garage door with its own hand crank.

We asked Bradshaw if this was symbolic of starting a company in a garage. His answer was “no. We wanted a big, wide open door that was inviting.”

A two-elevator bank will take visitors to the other floors as well as a rooftop for which there are big plans.

The fifth floor includes space for Ken Hays and the team at The Enterprise Center, but most of that floor is truly flexible space to accommodate everything from group meetings to programs like “GIGTANK.” There are even room dividers provided by Branch Technology, winner of this year’s “GIGTANK.”

And, before you ask, the answer is “yes.” The dividers were 3D-printed by Platt Boyd and his team at Branch Technology.

Kelly Fitzgerald and her Society of Work colleagues are in temporary quarters while her space is renovated. She hopes to have that floor available in early 2016. It will be designed to better meet the needs of Chattanooga’s entrepreneurs.

The view from the rooftop is spectacular, so you can imagine that the developers have big plans for it. Bradshaw says the current thinking is an elevated platform to hold about 50 people for special events.

“This will be one of the best public spaces in the city,” he says. That does not appear to be an understatement considering the almost 360-degree view that is available.

The term innovation suggests openness to opportunities and change. That reality was clearly evident in Bradshaw’s description of the plans.

“We are making a lot of this up as we go along,” he says.

The current concept is for CO.LAB to serve as the front door for entrepreneurs with its variety of programs.

“As they (start-ups) find their legs, the Society of Work is a natural flow point,” Bradshaw says, referring to the focus of Fitzgerald’s organization that provides everything from a desk-type working area to a walled office.

When start-ups outgrow co-working space, there will be floors designed to accommodate them before they need to leave the nest.

“This building will have flexibility for the next period of time,” Bradshaw says.

To further help entrepreneurs, The Lamp Post Group recently purchased a nearby building that will be converted into micro-living space.

“Chattanooga is getting ready to take another leap forward,” Bradshaw says.

NEXT: A look at Chattanooga’s Society of Work.

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