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Death of Harlem Co-Working Space Blamed on Mismanagement

 As Harlem Garage is set to close, members are making a last ditch effort to save it.
As Harlem Garage is set to close, members are making a last ditch effort to save it.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — For three years, Harlem Garage offered up-and-coming entrepreneurs a workplace brimming with promise and optimism.

Now the few members left at the co-working space have little more than a sense of despondency.

As the countdown to the co-working space’s closure nears, some members of the space that promised to “build upon an ongoing renaissance” in the neighborhood have raised concerns about mismanagement.

And they've begun a last-minute campaign to save the garage, which was built to help small businesses thrive.

“The cultivation of small businesses in Harlem is so important,” said Kimberly Watkins, who leases space in the garage for her company inSHAPE Fitness.

“This was a taxpayer-funded effort to sustain small businesses… Letting it go represents a failure."

Last month, management told DNAinfo New York that the expense of running the space was a driving force in allowing the Garage’s lease to expire at the end of June.

Yet Watkins, along with other members, said the management’s indifference to their concerns and lack of incubating have led to the early closure of the space. Nearly 100 members have signed an online petition to keep it open.

The space, located at 318 W. 118th St., was once a 5,000-square-foot garage prior to renovations. It's leased by a company called MicroOffice Solutions and the building is owned by the developer Artimus.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation seeded $250,000 in 2013 for the companies to develop and rent out the space.

“MicroOffice was not interested in making this place thrive,” member Kyessa Moore said.

Moore cited “basics” that she said the management has ignored, such as responsiveness to requests and after-hours and weekend access.

“I need to be able to access my work space whenever childcare can be secured and on weekends too,” she said in an email.

In an internal email shared with DNAinfo by a member, the management cited the cost of running the Garage at roughly $20,600, and deemed it “unprofitable.”

Watkins and Moore have spearheaded the last-ditch effort to drum up support for the space.

“These two companies, who now get to turn off the lights, have squandered that opportunity," Watkins said. 

“It’s a real David versus Goliath situation. Two Goliaths versus many Davids.”

Watkins and Moore had meetings with Harlem Councilmember Inez Dickens and Borough President Gale Brewer, whose offices reached out to the EDC, in an effort to find new owners for the space. 

They were told there would be a lengthy city vendor process for a potential takeover.

“The incubating of companies didn’t materialize,” Watkins said. “They got taxpayer money and that money basically got flushed down the toilet.”

Representatives of Artimus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“NYCEDC has created an ecosystem to support entrepreneurs through funding, training, innovative competitions and incubators across the five boroughs," EDC spokesman Ryan Birchmeier said.

"We look forward to developing more creative and equitable opportunities for small business in neighborhoods across the city.”

In an email, MicroOffice representative David Rotbard said he wanted to see the space flourish as much as anyone. Rotbard declined to comment on the accusation of mismanagement and maintains the rising costs led to the garage's closure. 

“It is definitely a sad loss for Harlem and the community,” he said.

“I won’t comment on accusations of mismanagement since those are simply and clearly from individuals who don’t know or understand the economics.”

Watkins noted that the members’ efforts to save the facility was likely futile.

“I’d be hard pressed to find a good core group at this point,” Watkins said.

“We’d be basically boot strapping... we’re already struggling small businesses as it is.

“We’re all basically women and minorities and we’re going to be working out of our apartments or Starbucks.”