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3rd Ward Philly abruptly closes, leaving behind lots of questions and a gorgeous space

A couple months ago, Flying Kite covered the opening of the glimmering co-working palace 3rd Ward in Kensington. The Brooklyn transplants hoped to graft their success up in Williamsburg onto a historic building in a changing neighborhood, offering desks for rent, maker classes and flexible spaces for a variety of creative uses.

Now, it seems founder Jason Goodman may have overextended his business. 3rd Ward announced late last week that they would be abruptly shuttering not only the Philadelphia space but the Brooklyn one as well. There will be no refunds for class tuition or co-working fees.

In Brooklyn, members are organizing to save their spaces (the building's owner seems amenable), but things are a little hazier in Philadelphia. 

As of this summer, 3rd Ward had already ceded management of their third floor coworking space to Impact Hub Philly, part of a global network of coworking spaces. According to a July story on Technical.ly Philly, 3rd Ward hoped this deal would free them up to focus on classes and events.

Impact Hub bills itself as a "member-driven community taking collaborative action for a better world." They are in over 60 locations around the world on six continents. Before the announcement, the organization was already planning to redesign the co-working space to line up with their philosophy. As of now, despite the demise of 3rd Ward, they are still operating. (Flying Kite publisher Michelle Freeman's company Witty Gritty Marketing & Events has space at Impact Hub Philly.)

"What has happened with 3rd Ward, which is very unfortunate, has nothing to do with us at Impact Hub Philly," says Impact Hub's Jeff Shiau. "Nothing has changed. We're still moving forward. Now we have the new possibility of, what can we do with the whole building?"

Fortunately, 3rd Ward didn't own the building -- they leased the space -- and Impact Hub Philly is in the process of reworking their agreement with the owner, extending their reach to the other two floors. Though they offer shared workspace, they don't consider themselves members of the coworking movement.

"We're not in the co-working market," insists Shiau. "We're here to really inspire and advance member success -- members who are really interested in building the good economy. They're interested in social entrepreneurship, and building good companies and organizations that can build a better world in some ways. The physical space happens to be a resource we believe in."

Meanwhile, despite the struggles at 3rd Ward, the Philadelphia co-working boomlet shows no sign of abating -- Transfer Station in Manayunk is currently crowdsourcing funds for a permanent location and there are rumors of another gestating co-working space in Fishtown, courtesy of a notable local brand.

It seems a safe bet that the gorgeous work 3rd Ward did updating the building will not go to waste. The space might even eventually foster exactly the kind of activity Goodman and his team hoped for -- events, community building, affordable and flexible workspace -- it just won't be under the name 3rd Ward.

LEE STABERT is managing editor of Flying Kite.
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