New coworking space in East Tampa honors Civil Rights activist's vision

James A. Hammond can tell you the formula for success: “The four P’s. A positive mental attitude, patience, persistence -– and with passion!” 

It’s a phrase that distinguishes Hammond, a military veteran and longtime community champion. It, along with some of the lifelong Tampa resident’s other favorite sayings, will soon be etched into the modern, glossy walls of the new 5508 N. 50th St. coworking space in East Tampa.

Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan (THAP), the non-profit that Hammond founded 26 years ago, has helped more than 200,000 Hillsborough County residents lead improved lives through three central tenants of healthcare, education, and housing. Today, economic empowerment takes a front seat for a “new THAP,” CEO Jeannette Bradley explains.

Perhaps the group’s most ambitious project to date: the overhaul of a 30,000-square-feet of land on the corner of Hillsborough Avenue and 50th Street – the future site of 5508 Coworking and Collaboration Exchange, set to open in early 2015.

“We realize where we are -- the area is somewhat blighted,” Bradley says. “Our intent is to develop this area so that other businesses will want to come and populate East Tampa.”

Bringing business services and coworking to an underserved community 

The 5508 story begins back in 1995, when Hammond noticed that small-time entrepreneurs in the local East Tampa business community were often operating from their cars or garages. In an effort to help stabilize those trades that typically failed, THAP purchased 5508 and established the Business Enterprise Center in on-site warehouses.

The idea – low-cost office space where small business owners could set up shop and grow - was a little ahead of its time. But it stuck.

Fast-forward two decades, and 5508 is about to get a million-dollar facelift. With seed money from the sale of an apartment complex just north of Tampa’s downtown, THAP will renovate an existing 10,000-square-feet structure into a modern, glass-and-concrete coworking space. Additional rows of empty bays will be revamped into small- and medium-sized offices, where businesses can rent room on a monthly basis or apply for a spot in a long-term incubator program.

“It’s going to be Solomon’s Temple. It’s going to be extremely modern,” says Derrick Blue, Executive Director of Coastal Bay Properties, the subsidiary group of THAP that owns 5508 today. 

A modern mecca for economic empowerment

5508 leaders toured local coworking spaces Oxford Exchange, Tampa Bay WaVe, and CoWork Tampa to glean inspiration for what workers wanted: airy conference rooms, private phone booths, state-of-the-art printers.

“It’ll be that cool place where you see people collaborating,” says Bradley. “A very sharp space, very clean. Open, with lots of light.”

Inspired by the industrial ambiance of The Grind in NYC, Bradley and Blue envision a modern Mecca for the small business startup: an open floor plan, shiny concrete floors, and exposed ducts running above glass-walled conference rooms etched with Hammond’s favorite inspirational phrases. A kitchenette with free coffee and tea on tap completes the vision.

Coworking membership can be reserved at a wait list rate of $59/mo. Once doors open, membership fees jump to $79 per month. 

In addition, an incubator program will be open to as many as 80 small businesses. Single, double or quad office spaces whose monthly rent ranges from $175 to $750 will be available, depending on the size and scope of the business. 

On-site amenities for businesses in the incubator program include mailboxes, administrative services, access to mentors (5508 is currently seeking mentors from the local business community), classes and even the potential for an on-campus daycare facility and cafe, which would also be open to coworkers and the public.

“It’s a place where burgeoning entrepreneurs can come and find others who are doing the same thing,” says Bradley. “At the same time, coworkers can easily patronize the businesses of the incubators. It’s a built-in customer base.” 

Non-tech business is encouraged at 5508. Services like American Braids and Beauty and craft occupations like custom cabinetry and Prime Time Car Care, which currently occupies six bays in the back of the complex, will remain. 

“Everyone has an opportunity to be here. There’s office space, but there’s also a trades component,” Bradley explains. “We are able to help legitimize businesses that are traditionally in the African-American or Hispanic community that go under the radar and never really are able to hit the mass market.” 

Education and entrepreneurship

Hillsborough Community College is partnering with 5508 as a satellite campus where HCC will offer classes for the Entrepreneurship certificate and non-degree-seeking courses for the public in high-tech, state-of-the art classrooms. 

The program will help startups in the incubator program and first-time entrepreneurs develop a business plan with resources and practical instruction.

“This site goes beyond just providing space. Our intent is to help businesses graduate, command fees and reach a larger market with the 5508 stamp,” says Bradley. “We’re looking at making this a place that businesses can come to truly thrive and learn how to survive.”

Other planned partnerships include NAACP, Dress for Success and Career Source Tampa Bay, which would help adults learn 21st century work skills -– a program than could particularly benefit senior citizens looking to re-enter the workforce. 

“The long-term unemployed, who cannot find a job -– we’ll retool them and then help them find gainful employment,” Bradley says.

Community funded, community driven

A veteran of the U.S. Army, Hammond led Civil Rights efforts in Hillsborough County for decades. Once he returned to his hometown of Tampa after attending Hampton Institute and serving as an Army officer in the 1950s, Hammond sought to change the landscape for the African-American community. Before founding THAP, he started a program to help African-Americans become employed, negotiating with city officials and companies like General Telephone Company to let him bring in members of the black community for training and integration.

Hammond often jokes about his “700 kids” – students at the school named after him in Odessa, whom he visits on a monthly basis. Hammond’s dedication to education and economic opportunity is a driving factor in the redevelopment of 5508.

“The concept dates back to when Mr. Hammond decided that he was going to teach new skills to people, so that they could have access to jobs they normally would not have,” explains Bradley.

Bradley graduated from Florida State University and is currently enrolled in UT’s Nonprofit Management Graduate Certificate program. 

After stints as the head of HR for Tampa General Hospital and a private international firm, Bradley began nonprofit work, teaching kids “how to sit in the right seat, so they could go to the right colleges and become what they could be in the world.” Today, she continues the role through a partnership with HCC, helping senior class members at Middleton High School in Tampa develop post-graduation plans. Initially brought on to assess and advise THAP’s board, Bradley was offered the CEO seat in September of 2013. 

THAP aims to raise $1.2 million from the community for 5508 over the next eight months, beginning with the Inaugural Founders’ Gala at TPepin’s Hospitality Centre. Hammond and other THAP cofounders were honored at a gala event on Veteran’s Day, November 11, which was also Hammond’s 85th birthday. 

“We want the community to fund it, and thus own it,” Bradley says. 

Justine Benstead is a freelance writer who can usually be found walking her dog in her South Tampa neighborhood, drinking far too much coffee, tweeting @JustineinTampa, and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.