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News Originally posted at afr.com

Gadens put spare floorspace into casual tenant market with Space&Co

July 16, 2015

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 15: Gadens partner Paul Spiro poses for a portrait inside newly fitted out Space & Co area on July 15, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Fairfax Media)

Law firm Gadens has branched out into the real estate business, offering half a floor in its flagship Brisbane office to casual users.

The top-tier law firm, which leases 7000 square metres over five floors in the city’s 111 Eagle St building, is selling 500 sq m of space by the hour and day under the Space&Co brand.

This gives GPT, which owns the flagship building, its third Space&Co site beyond the two it already has in Melbourne Central Tower and Rouse Hill shopping centre, north-west of Sydney.

“I approached GPT and said ‘You’ve got Space & Co in Sydney and Melbourne. Would it make sense to collaborate with us to create Space&Co in Brisbane?'” said Paul Spiro, Gadens’ Brisbane chairman and head of its property practice. “That was the beginning of the idea.”

Co-working spaces aren’t new to Brisbane. Gravity, Salt House and The Swarm are some already in the city. But Gadens’ move into the sector is part of a wave that GPT hopes will tap an estimated 740,000 sq m of unused office space, as non-traditional providers with spare facilities lease them out on a short-term basis.

While Space&Co is a profitable business in its own right and increases traffic to the buildings it owns, GPT also sees the offering as a way to make tenants stickier.

“If there were customers in our buildings looking at this type of scenario, we would be very open to that,” said GPT head of asset management Matthew Faddy.

GPT plans to open a Sydney CBD site and a second one in the Melbourne CBD within six to nine months. A second one in Brisbane is also planned.

Gadens’ modular fitout permitted easy dismantling of offices and creation of a new zone, but not all offices can do it.

“I’m not sure everyone who has space may have the flexibility of configuration,” Mr Spiro said.

Casual use of the space starts from a monthly membership fee of $210, the same as with Space&Co’s site in Melbourne Central. Rouse Hill is a cheaper $180.

Comfortable option

Gadens could have offered the space, which Mr Spiro said the firm will need when the economy picks up, directly through LiquidSpace, the Airbnb-type platform for casual office space in which GPT holds an equity stake. But it chose to make it a Space&Co-branded facility as it was a more “comfortable” way to go into the leasing game.

“We’re lawyers, not real estate managers,” he said.

Mr Spiro said he didn’t know how how financially successful exploitation of the space would be.

“It’s early days,” he said. “Ask in a couple of months!”

Hosting a co-working space is not just a way of exploiting unused facilities. It’s also strategic.

“The type of people who will be using the space, hopefully we can create a relationship with them and assist them with legal services in the future,” Mr Spiro said.

It’s worked before. In its previous space at 240 Queen St, Gadens sub-leased space to pipeline operator APA. APA’s growth soon took the company elsewhere, but Gadens is still benefiting.

“They’ve turned out to be one our largest clients,” he said.

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