Five years ago at this time the dust had finally stopped flying after a several-months-long renovation project at Bridgeworks Enterprise Center in south Allentown. Allentown Economic Development Corporation had just won the 2014 SBA Growth Accelerator Challenge, which provided a $50,000 grant to makeover the former Home Office Alternative. It was one of 50 projects out of 800 applicants to win the prize.

“When I found out that we won the grant, my first thought was that we are going to make this space into something co-workers and clients could be proud to call their space,” said Jim Fisher, AEDC Facilities Manager.

Renamed the Flex Office and Coworking Space, the concept for the redesign was to allow the company founders of a small startup to set up shop in an affordable, professional office space. It features ten offices sized for 2-6 people, and seating in the open office area for as many as 30 coworkers. A spacious kitchen with dining area and a lounge area were also added, as well as a conference room for 8-10 people, and two small phone booths where coworkers can take private calls. (See photo gallery below)

The only parts of the 2,400 sq. ft. renovation project that AEDC subcontracted was the metal framing and drywall of the new office walls, electrical work, and the installation of the new HVAC system. All flooring, finish carpentry, lighting, painting, etc. was completed by the AEDC facilities staff consisting of Fisher and Facilities Foreman Dave Heffner.

“When we renovated the coworking area, we set out to create not just a functional workspace, but something that was also unique to our mission at AEDC,” explained AEDC Executive Director Scott Unger. “We were able to do that by paying homage to the history of Allentown manufacturing. Our facilities team started with a great vision and worked hard to bring in elements specific to the old Mack Trucks facilities, as well as industrial elements from the Allentown Metal Works property.”

Looking back on the all-consuming, year-long project, Fisher is a bit nostalgic. “I liked watching our team’s vision come to fruition,” he said. “The work of the space was fluid throughout construction, but our main vision remained intact. It was imperative on both of our parts that the space adhere to the industrial nature of the building’s past. I really enjoyed resurrecting the original Mack Truck plant lighting (hat lights) for use in the space, and the construction of the conference room to mimic office cubicles of the early 20th century.”

Unger also takes pride in the building’s history and how the project’s design brought it to the forefront. “This isn’t just a space built from a mold, it has real character,” he said. “It was deliberately created to reflect our mission of supporting manufacturing, startups, and Allentown workers. Tenants and coworkers can get to work, get support, and feel inspired by the city’s history around them.”

But as anyone who has ever completed a renovation project knows, there’s always at least one least favorite part. For Fisher, it was stripping paint off the brick wall. “It was a messy and time-consuming process, but was well worth the time and effort,” he explained. “All in all I believe that we delivered a unique space for our clients to enjoy coming to every day.”