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Despite the uncertain future of workspace rental company WeWork, there is one thing Bentonville residents can be sure of and that's that plans to place a 200,000-square-foot building near downtown are a go.

Those involved in the project met Thursday to review plans that will be unveiled in coming weeks. The building is expected to have several floors and enough space for more than 3,200 people. The price tag on the project has not been released.

The development is different from most WeWork projects because of the construction process and the location, said Michel Rojkind, senior vice president of architecture for WeWork. Instead of renovating a building, the company is creating one from the ground up. Fayetteville architect Marlon Blackwell, who won the American Institute of Architects' gold medal for 2020 this week, is one of the architects on the project.

"Most of the time we only grab existing buildings and renovate the interior," Rojkind said. "No one really knows what is happening because you cannot see it."

Specific design details were kept under wraps, but he and Joshua Kyles, an area developer on the project, said the public can expect the structure to be more than just an office building.

New York-based WeWork offers custom workspaces that tend to mix amenities such as coffee bars, private offices and open work areas. Most of its projects are in large cities like Chicago, London or Mexico City, but Rojkind said Bentonville has its own appeal.

"The vibrancy here is amazing," he said. "You don't need a WeWork to be here that's for sure."

When Rojkind first arrived in Bentonville, a tall, scraggly-haired Kyles was there to greet him.

"We get out of the car, [and he says] 'grab your bikes, let's go on a bike tour,'" he said. So they rode through downtown, eventually to the Greenway bike trails. Rojkind said it was amazing to see how people interacted and used what the city had to offer.

The community is shifting, he and Kyles said. There are more freelancers, remote workers and companies in the region who want professional settings that offer flexibility and a more casual appeal.

People can work in five different places or more in a single day, Kyles said, citing a study. The notion that workers are supposed to stay at their desks all day is fading. Walmart and others have been great at adapting to that, Kyles said.

"We want to be relevant to the vendors, as well as what Walmart is doing for Bentonville," he said.

He and Kyles, of Blue Crane LLC, have had extensive talks about what to do with the development, designated for 224 S. Main St., just south of downtown.

"We are really trying to incorporate that into the design of the [WeWork] building and embrace all the things around it to make sure it all ties together," Kyles said. They have plans to break ground by June and expect construction to wrap up in 18 months.

That is all despite a failed initial public stock offering, the public ouster of the company's founder, Adam Neumann, and reports of hundreds of job cuts.

Asked about the state of the company, Rojkind said the core business hasn't changed.

Things maybe went "the wrong way than [what] we wanted to with the filing of the IPO because we were growing too fast," he said. "I think those are lessons to be learned, but our core business will always be the core business. If we're adding to the local communities, if we are adding places for people to have the most interesting experience and development of their own profession, no matter how small the business or big the business, we are doing our job."

"That's the main focus. So we'll keep working on that. And yeah, we'll still be in the media for sure, but hopefully with much better news going forward."

Debbie Griffin, Bentonville's community relations and economic development director, said that's been a leading concern for the city. WeWork "has maintained open communication with the city and kept us informed, and they've had plenty of meetings with the city along the way," Griffin said.

"In our mind there was never any doubt from them that they were going to move forward with the project."

Business on 12/13/2019

Print Headline: WeWork plans for building in Bentonville going ahead

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