After a yearlong delay, the office-sharing arm of the Life Time fitness chain is opening its third Minnesota location Friday in the former YMCA building in downtown Minneapolis.
Life Time Work's newest location, which follows sites opened in 2019 in Edina and St. Louis Park, will offer members 53,000 square feet of office space on the top three floors at 30 Ninth St. S. near Hennepin Avenue.
The downtown co-working space is Life Time's eighth nationwide.
Real estate experts say Life Time Work is expanding during a challenging time in the office-leasing industry. General office vacancy rates in downtown Minneapolis are more than 24% as of June, according to real estate services giant Cushman & Wakefield.
Co-working spaces were on the rise pre-pandemic, doubling in the past 10 years to 1.2 million square feet in Minneapolis and St. Paul by the end of 2020. But interest waned during the pandemic.
"Like the overall office market, demand for flexible office space has been challenged in the near term," said commercial services firm CBRE in its 2020 industry assessment report.
CBRE officials consider the long-term outlook more positive — tenants will eventually return to the workplace. Right now, the "when" question lingers.
Life Time Work originally planned to open in downtown Minneapolis along with five other locations across the country last year, but the spreading coronavirus forced many companies to temporarily shut down offices.
The company considered that a temporary setback. Within the next year or two it plans to open six new locations in Chicago, Arlington, Va., Beaverton, Ore., Shenandoah, Texas, and two in Georgia, officials said.
Life Time entered a quiet period last week after parent firm, Life Time Group Holdings Inc., registered for an initial public offering of stock with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Because of that, officials would not say how many members have joined its Minneapolis co-working offices or discuss projections or investment costs.
"We are just excited to be part of the revival of downtown Minneapolis," Life Time Work's Senior Director Brooks Hagen said during a tour of the newly renovated space last week.
Building developer, Ned Abdul with Swervo Development Corp. bought the seven-story and 140,000-square-foot building in 2018 for about $5 million and began extensive renovations.
Abdul took down the brick façades on the north and south sides of the building and replaced them with glass to create a spacious, airy feel.
The company expects to attract professionals and small business owners in need of flexible but high-end office space, with options that include 103 glass-enclosed private offices, access to shared lounges featuring library-style tables, banquette seating and upholstered booths and nooks.
Members can rent on a month-to-month basis and choose among three membership options, starting at $435 per month. Plans include access to all of Life Time's 150 athletic clubs and other co-working spaces.
South Minneapolis resident Josh Peterson rented one of Life Time Work's dedicated desks because he needed a quiet place to work away from his three children, who are home-schooled. After touring Life Time's facility this summer, he became a member.
Peterson had previously rented co-working spaces inside We Work in Minneapolis' North Loop and Fueled Collective in Downtown East.
"But this one being linked to the Life Time Fitness was a massive bonus," Peterson said, as a media tour group passed through the Life Time facility. "Aesthetically, the vibe here is awesome and I love where it is situated downtown."
The recent rise in the delta variant has thrown more uncertainty into the marketplace and delayed the employee return-to-work plans of Target, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank and hundreds of other companies.
Only about 30% to 35% of office workers have returned downtown on a regular basis, the Minneapolis Downtown Council officials estimate.
Recent national surveys by CBRE, Jones Lang LaSalle and McKinsey show that many U.S. office workers have become so used to working from home, they don't want to return to the office full time.
Life Time's Hagen believes the new hybrid remote-work trend should benefit Life Time Work because many "professionals still want to get out of the house" but don't necessarily want to trudge to their corporate offices five days a week.
Some businesses and corporations that terminated their office leases or downsized during the pandemic are also expected to become Life Time Work customers, Hagen said, noting that they can rent Life Time Work conference rooms for important meetings.
Wharton School management and human resources professor Peter Cappelli said the flexible office space has faced "a lot of internal problems" during the pandemic and faces a "lot of competition" in the years ahead.
But he thinks the industry could ultimately grow. It's more likely to appeal to the "permanently remote" worker — meaning someone who doesn't have the option of splitting their time between home and office.
In the end, flexible office space is "probably a plus because there will be more people than before who need or want a place to work other than their house. But the question is: Where?" Cappelli said.
Shared office hunters will debate whether to work in the city or the suburbs, he said: "There is a little disagreement about which is best."
Life Time Work is betting on both.