by Kevin Lindamood
Repurpossed manufacturing districts are springing up all over the country. This phenomenon isn't exclusive to large cities. As manufacturing continues to minemore available natural and human resource, manufacturing continues to find footing on distant shores. Exploitation of developing nation's natural resource has undermined the value of much of our country’s' own natural resource. It was a depreciation of property value that put the prospect of the recent renewal of East Williamsburg on track. Former factory owners watched, waited, and then lined up to submit changes in zoning and variance mirroring many of the same processes that have transformed the East Village and Chelsea. We understand that it was only through loss of manufacturing jobs and businesses that this opportunity for revitalization was afforded to us. There are now twelve formerly industrial buildings renovated in our area around the Morgan Ave stop of the L train. Each has been developed differently and each reflects a different commitment to servicing the neighborhood and the neighbors.
We occupy the top three floors of the four-story building at 57 Thames Street. There are forty different offices and studio spaces on the third and fourth floors with both residential and commercial applications. In the beginning, shortly after completing the fourth floor apartments, the second floor of the building became available. We were interested in developing something that would give rise to more than just rent revenue- by creating something akin to a multi-use center. Much like time-sharing condominiums where owners purchase individual weeks in an apartment, we envisioned dance studios, a darkroom and classroom that rents monthly to many different individuals and organizations. The second floor contains much of the infrastructure (from technology to musical instruments) and space that supports the rehearsals, classes, production facilities, radio stations and events that take place here. We also host plays, dance performances, art shows, roller-skating, screenings and concerts. By outfitting our facility with the discarded surplus of our economy's largest expansion (and subsequent deflation) we hoped to sustain our business with revenue derived from renting out the rehearsal spaces alone.
But our foray into arts administration proved more of an education than we had anticipated. More labor and personnel was required than with simple property management. This work resulted in much lower returns. The development of our third floor signaled a return to rent derived revenue. With our vision for the second floor - we had inadvertently set the bar of sustainability so high as to place it out of reach for the third. We were trying to sell an idea that most people bought when they moved here. Artists and young professionals weren't paying any less to live this far outside of Manhattan; they were just getting more space. And paying 66%-75% of one's monthly income for it meant that even if Office Ops could give you a deal it made more sense to start an art center in your own loft.
The most rewarding component has been the opportunity to develop working relationships predicated on creative rapport. Operating outside the bounds of mere tenant/landlord dealings has strengthened our upstart operation. The biggest surprise was simply how much valuable stuff was out there for the price of a haul. Consumer culture needs to discard resource to establish demand and service production. By acquiring the majority of our operating infrastructure second-hand we cut our costs and those of our clients. And it would seem that by simply establishing efficient means of consolidation and redistribution of resource, the trappings of consumer culture might be hedged.
It is this larger context that informs our basic organizational mission. We would like to organize content producers beneath an umbrella of individual ownership and licensing. All non-profits and non-governmental organizations share in the battle against commercial and consumption-based messaging. Those same organizations must turn to indifferent commercial producers for services, be it housing, production facilities or event venues. The disparity between our operational overhead and that of organizations akin to ours provides an incentive for content producers to invest in supporting Office Ops. Young businesses face the highest hurdles. But because our customers respect the opportunity we offer, Office Ops can focus on its own objective -sustainability.
For more information on Office Ops, go to www.officeops.org or call (718) 418-2509.