By Wendy Greenberg
Base Camp Trenton is nestled in a Mill Hill Historic District brick building that has beautiful molding, art on the walls, and easy access to the Trenton Transit Center. You too can rent a home office away from home here.
But speaking with Anne LaBate, real estate broker, Trenton booster, and Base Camp creator, it becomes clear that it is not just about office space. It is about community.
The start-up’s modest flyer relates the dictionary definition of the term base camp, which dates back to 1895 to 1900, as “a main encampment providing supplies, shelter, and communication for persons engaged in wide-ranging activities, as exploring, reconnaissance, hunting, or mountain climbing.”
While hunting and mountain climbing may need to be enjoyed elsewhere, Base Camp does provide supplies, such as desks, WiFi, coffee, a printer, a conference room, and shelter in a building fit for meeting clients. But it is the possibility of serendipitous collaborations that sets it apart from other part-time rentals.
LaBate contends that not all ideas can be developed by E-mail and online chatting. Creativity happens from spontaneous conversations, she believes. It’s called coworking.
The concept of coworking germinated, for LaBate, at a national economic development conference in Philadelphia where she met Alex Hillman, a computer programmer who founded the coworking space called Indy Hall and introduced her to the movement. “What stayed with me is that it is not about square feet, but building a community,” she says. “Coworkers are not isolated, they interact when they work, they brainstorm.” Even when former coworkers have moved on to other, more permanent locations, they often continue to meet up at Indy Hall coworking recreational events, LaBate says.
The coworking Wiki timeline sets the loose concept beginning in 1999, during early computer work collaborations, and the dedicated space at 2005 with the Hat Factory in San Francisco and in 2006 with a New York space called Jelly.
Meanwhile, LaBate, from upstate Amsterdam, New York, armed with a bachelor’s degree in community development from Rutgers and a master’s degree in real estate development and investment from New York University, had been active for the last 25 years in commercial real estate, focusing earlier on the appraisal of commercial properties and during the last 15 years on sales and leasing.
Her brokerage activities include tenant and landlord representation, and consulting for development, redevelopment, and investment opportunities encompassing all property types. She has a penchant for development opportunities with a particular interest in historic properties and adaptive re-use of existing buildings, especially in downtown Trenton, greater Mercer County, and central New Jersey. As a Trenton resident, she enthusiastically promotes the competitive advantages of Trenton real estate.
She eventually founded the brokerage firm now called Segal LaBate, which was originally on Lamberton Street. But she knew she wanted to be in downtown Trenton. The firm moved to 247 Front Street, and in a short time took space upstairs that had previously been rented by a railroad workers union.
She could have just re-rented the space, but by then her interest in coworking was burgeoning. Base Camp Trenton opened in December of 2014. Central air was added through floor vents, to preserve the decorative plaster walls in the building. There has been a lot of grassroots promotion, “talking it up,” she says. The Front Street property was on the Mill Hill House Tour, on social media, and even ads in the program for the Mill Hill Theater.
Ten work stations evolved, with printers, lockers, a kitchen with coffee, a conference room, whiteboards, and what she calls the “hackathon room” — an awkwardly shaped conference room that works for classes. There are about half a dozen steady coworkers, and room to grow as the Base Camp Trenton coworking community grows.
LaBate believes in the positive effect Base Camp can have in Trenton, bringing people downtown. They can get lunch and do errands during the work day. They are close to City Hall, the State House, and the other buildings in which they may need to do business.
Attorney Maria Kelly lives in Trenton but finds it is quieter to work at Base Camp. She is involved with city council through her work, and likes the convenience of city hall across the street.
Her office mate, Heidi Wimmer, had experience coworking in Durham, North Carolina, so she sought a similar situation in Trenton. “I’m so much more motivated by getting out of the house,” Wimmer says. “At home I tend to do chores, and have a needy cat.” She works for different companies, currently doing marketing for one in California that helps individuals with Asperger’s syndrome. Kelly and Wimmer enjoy being coworkers.
LaBate, the daughter of a union plumber and telephone company worker, has her parents’ work ethic and a particularly creative mind, especially for making Base Camp feel like a home office. In fact, she has placed art from Trenton art galleries on the walls, showcasing Trenton artists.
Base Camp prices range from one day a month for $30, with $18 additional per day, to a five full days a week, at $300 a month, with other arrangements in between. A conference room is $30 for a part- day reservation.
LaBate says she is interested in nurturing meet-ups for small business people and plans to offer talks such as one on creative rights management by Trenton attorney Willard Stanback and another on micro-lending — all with Trenton experts.
“Folks will get accustomed to the convenience of being in a downtown setting where it is easy to walk to the post office or a bank, to the train station, or to grab a quick lunch or take a break in Mill Hill Park,” she says. “These amenities can make for a positive work environment for freelancers and may also inspire an entrepreneur to decide to grow their business right here in downtown Trenton.”
LaBate herself is involved in the arts in Trenton, including the beginning of Art All Night, which has grown to be a Trenton mainstay in its ninth year. She is active in the community as a board member of the Trenton Downtown Association, Trenton Parking Authority, Princeton Area Community Foundation, MIDJersey Chamber, and the advisory board of the Small Business Development Center at the College of New Jersey. She formerly served on the boards of Passage Theater Company, Artworks, and the Trenton YWCA.
She is also excited about the free Levitt AMP Trenton summer concert series (see story, page 14), and like Base Camp, she sees it for what it can do for Trenton, bring people downtown to explore, dine, and have a good time.
LaBate hopes that Base Camp Trenton can “help start-ups to get off the ground and entrepreneurs to take a risk and start a company, by removing obstacles,”’ she says. “Members don’t need to obligate themselves with a long-term lease, don’t need to deal with furnishing an office or conference room, setting up Internet, and all of those expenses and administrative tasks that can suck time and energy from their real focus.”
Adds LaBate: “We think that folks together may collaborate and support each other in interesting ways that may be gratifying.”
Base Camp Trenton, 247 East Front Street, Trenton. 609-392-0203 www.basecamptrenton.com. firstname.lastname@example.org.