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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, January 13, 2014, 6:00 am

Proposal seeks incubator at former Ukiah jail

Public-private partnership for business development

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    Ukiah SharespaceUKIAH — Efforts are under way to recast Ukiah’s historic jail as a center for business development, training and incubation, leveraging vacant city property at a time of slim resources and following the lead of a similar facility currently operating in Santa Rosa.

    Known as the “Ukiah Share Space,” the proposed 10,000-square foot facility at 280 East Standley St. is currently vacant after the exit of its former tenant, the County of Mendocino. It would likely house the Ukiah-based nonprofit Economic Development Finance Corp., with around 18 individual offices available in addition to a number of shared areas for prospective clients.

    It would represent yet another example of public-private approaches to business development and training in the North Bay, employing a city-owned building to attract private ventures at a time when redevelopment dollars and other public funding for economic development have disappeared or remain strained.

    “With dwindling resources, the city doesn’t have a lot of money for economic development. But they have this space,” said John Kuhry, executive director of the EDFC.

    Ukiah Sharespace floorplan

    The former Mendocino County jail could accommodate 18 individual offices and shared work areas. (courtesy of EDFC; click to enlarge)

    Funded by Mendocino County, its municipalities and federal grants, the EDFC was created in 1993 and is focused on a number of concurrent business development efforts in Mendocino County. The nonprofit offers loans to small business as a federally approved Community Development Financial Institution, and conducts research concerning potential opportunities to support business sectors in the region.

    While hosting a handful of tenants at the EDFC’s current Ukiah headquarters, the 10,000-square-foot former jail could serve as a large event venue while supporting a greater number of entities, he said. Rent for those tenants is being determined along with a rental agreement with the city, with the hope of opening the facility in the first half of next year.

    “We’re a large geographic county with a relatively small population. By creating a centralized place where they (business entities) can come together, this space gives them an opportunity to interact and access facilities they may not have in their home office,” he said.

    Potential industries include information-based ventures and small-scale manufacturers, with talk of extending commercial-grade high-speed Internet access to the site, Mr. Kuhry said.

    “The key thing is curation. Just because you write a check and want a space doesn’t mean you get one,” he said.

    Most recently hosting Mendocino County’s probation department, the former jail is currently vacant and within two blocks of Ukiah’s downtown district. The facility has a market rate of approximately $5,000 per month, but could allow cheaper rent in a city-partnered program, Mr. Kuhry said.

    While acknowledging layout quirks associated with the building’s former law enforcement use, Mr. Kuhry also noted that the unique “Art Deco”-style space could also serve to attract clients.

    Potential industries include information-based ventures and small-scale manufacturers, with talk of extending commercial-grade high-speed internet access to the site, Mr. Kuhry said.

    “The key thing is curation. Just because you write a check and what a space doesn’t mean you get one,” he said.

    Advocates for the proposal, including the city of Ukiah, the EDFC and Santa Rosa’s Share Exchange, held an open house at the facility for potential tenants on Dec. 16. The group plans to schedule another event in late January, Mr. Kuhry said.

    The facility is envisioned to share a similar scope with Santa Rosa’s Share Exchange, a 2,000-square-foot facility which offers around 10 desk spaces to regional ventures and operates in conjunction with a 1,000 square-foot related retail venture, the Made Local Marketplace.

    While the former jail site might present challenges for a robust retail component, the synergistic benefit of co-locating regional companies is one that the Share Exchange and other co-working facilities have long found effective, said Kelley Rajala, executive director of the Share Exchange.

    The Share Exchange and other North Bay-based co-working and business incubation facilities have recently been seeking to partner with other organizations to enhance their membership benefits, with joint use agreements for clients underway between the Share Exchange, the SoCo Nexus and Work Petaluma, she said.

    “It’s hard to develop a business on your own. A successful business has a whole ecosystem around it,” Ms. Rajala said.

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