What began as a relatively small startup idea in Worthington has developed into a rapidly growing, multifaceted co-working concept that is spreading across central Ohio.

COhatch, which rents co-working, events and office space to businesses and individuals, recently revealed its newest venture: the Pub, 1554 Polaris Parkway in Columbus' Polaris Fashion Place. It will replace the bar of the same name that closed there earlier this year.

The Pub at Polaris is the fifth announced location for COhatch, which has two offices in Worthington and planned sites at 1735 W. Lane Ave. in Upper Arlington and 18 E. William St. in Delaware.

Matt Davis, COhatch's majority owner, founded the startup with Ryan Fogelman and a few others about two years ago.

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At the time, he said, he was aiming to provide a co-working space in Old Worthington that had the traditional feel of a downtown gathering space.

The concept was launched with the opening of the Hardware Store in the former Zettler Hardware at 659 High St. in late 2016.

Davis set up memberships to range from $59 per month to nearly $2,000, depending on whether members use office spaces, private offices or other amenities. The memberships come with "perks" like gym access, workshops and family events.

Looking back, Davis said, he had no idea the startup company would be planning more locations in less than two years.

"I wish I could say it's what I had planned all along," he said with a laugh.

Buying in

COhatch's original Worthington Hardware Store location and the Library, its expansion in the Kilbourne Memorial Building at 752 High St. that opened last year, both sold out almost instantly due to high demand, and the concepts attracted far more interest than he expected, Davis said.

"I was pleasantly surprised at how many people -- investors, as well as people who wanted to work here -- really bought into it," he said. "I think it resonates with people's value system as a whole."

Davis said COhatch attracted some "very philanthropic" investors, who helped speed up expansion plans.

He didn't reveal who those investors are, but they are "local Columbus entrepreneurs" who "take pride" in their community, matching what he believes are COhatch's values, Davis said.

"They're not the big people you think of," he said. "They're people that work in towns and feel they want to be good stewards of their money. They want a good return, but they also want to see the city and town improve. That's the people we look for."

But it wasn't just investors Davis and COhatch had to win over. They also had to convince the communities involved that their idea was a good one, particularly in Worthington, where they moved into a city-owned building.

David McCorkle, Worthington's economic-development manager, said part of COhatch's lease at the Kilbourne Memorial Building was to provide quarterly reports on new and growing businesses that use COhatch space.

And though McCorkle said the space itself has added "vibrancy" to Old Worthington, he sees those reports as the biggest positive.

"These are some businesses that I wouldn't have an opportunity to even know that they exist," he said. "And that narrative provides me with an idea of who is either struggling or who is growing at a pace to potentially outgrow COhatch that I may have an opportunity to interact with and keep in Worthington.

"The simplest way to say it is that it's been nice to have some insight into our small business community that I may not otherwise have access to."

That's the impact Joe Henderson, economic-development director for Upper Arlington, said he hopes to see.

COhatch is in the midst of a $1 million renovation of the Lane Avenue facility, which will be called the Overlook and revitalize a building that was vacant for decades.

Henderson said city leaders are "excited" about the prospect of bringing COhatch to Upper Arlington and he hopes it can function "almost like an incubator."

"A city like Upper Arlington, we're made up of a lot of small- and mid-size businesses, so there lot of professionals who work from home," he said. "Having a place where they can work and collaborate and have their own space to do what they do is big for us."

Shifting gears

To reach the point of opening the Pub in Polaris, Davis said, he had to go through a shift in how he thought about COhatch. Originally, he said, he emphasized co-working areas and physical space.

The Pub, however, will be more than that. It will be a co-working space by day, but from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., it will become a craft-beer bar and entertainment venue, with featured areas for local microbrewers and a variety of events.

Other amenities have been added, too. For example, the company has acquired a beach house on Anna Maria Island, Florida, for "affordable" rentals to members and a bounce castle that members can use for children's birthday parties.

"I was originally wrapped up in how we create walkable locations in towns like Worthington or Old Delaware, where real estate is finicky," Davis said. "Then I started realizing that COhatch is about shared work and shared office, but I switched to a shared community (idea) and thinking that there's nothing we can't do if we share. How do we share things that you normally couldn't afford by yourself?"

The Polaris location marks another slight departure for COhatch, both in scope and in location.

Since its inception, one of COhatch's main concepts was the use of older buildings with some kind of historical connection to the neighborhood, such as the location of Delaware's Newsstand on the first floor and basement of the former Delaware Gazette newspaper building.

Davis said that trend worked well as a cost-effective option in the center of communities.

"It doesn't do the town any good or us any good to have an idle asset in the middle of the town that's only getting uglier with time and costing more over time," he said. "But the other strategy is really about ... taking over idle retail assets."

That's where the Pub comes in.

Rather than an old building that has been vacant for 20 years, the Polaris space is a relatively new one that was without a tenant for less than a year. It is a good trial run for the adaptation of COhatch concepts into retail settings, but it also serves as the beginning of a partnership with Polaris and its parent company, Washington Prime Group, Davis said.

"We're only getting started with Polaris; that's just the first one," he said. "We're scaling with them, and we're bringing other shared concepts to Polaris. Anything shared, COhatch is going to kind of build around."

Davis said more about the Washington Prime Group partnership would be revealed in the coming weeks.

Expanding vision

Beyond Polaris, Davis said, he and COhatch have no plans to stop expanding any time soon.

The next location announcement will involve a smaller town "way outside of Columbus" who "really wants us to help them" before the announcements take a bit of a break while Davis and his team open the Delaware, Polaris and Upper Arlington locations.

As COhatch expands, Davis said, he is not enjoying himself any less.

"It's building these lifestyle centers and then scaling that," he said. "The fun part for me, as an entrepreneur, is that now there's nothing that's not within scope for me. I can basically build this community of things that we all share, and now it's just fun."

McCorkle said he would recommend the brand to any municipality, as long as leaders ensure it has "the right fit for the community."

He said although there's "a lot of opportunity" to go along with what Davis is building, cities need to be sure that they cater to their own unique needs.

"Cohatch is doing well as a result of some of these partnerships," he said. "They're bringing something awesome to the community that the community wants and needs and is willing to support, but at the same time, these municipalities are also providing COhatch an incentive to do it and they're keeping their cost down. So I think it's mutually beneficial."

For example, at the Kilbourne Memorial Building on Worthington's Village Green, COhatch has funded more than $510,000 of renovations to the dilapidated facility rather than paying rent to the city, which owns the property, for the first 10 years, according to McCorkle.

Davis said he isn't putting any ceiling on what's possible for the brand, even if it grows "bigger than I want to manage."

"Our whole vision is to do thousands of them, and it has nothing to do with money or greed," he said. "I started this company as kind of my own philanthropic mission, and I believe it has to be profitable to grow. I believe people want to see a return with that philanthropy behind it.

"I think the sky is the limit for every small town, every region that could build something like this. The key is how quickly we can do it and still maintain the authenticity of what we're doing."

For more about COhatch, go to cohatch.com.

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