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Gene Kansas Venturing Into Co-Working In Historic Atlanta District

One of Atlanta's more prolific real estate entrepreneurs is getting into the co-working business with a little help from a Home Depot executive.

135 Auburn Ave. is being transformed into a co-working concept called Constellations.

Gene Kansas, the founder of Atlanta-based Gene Kansas Real Estate, is transforming a historic Downtown Atlanta building along the Atlanta Streetcar route into a shared workspace facility.

The project, named Constellations, is not slated to open until next spring, but Kansas has already secured a handful of shared-space tenants, including Georgia Tech, Georgia State University and Atlanta bicycle tour provider Civil Bikes.

While the city has become replete with co-working locations, thanks in large part to such operators as WeWork and Industrious, Kansas zeroed in instead on Downtown Atlanta's Sweet Auburn historic district, making Constellations one of the first in the area.

With capital from local investors — including Home Depot Chief Financial Officer Carol Tomé and her husband, Ramon Tomé, a board member with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta — Kansas purchased 135 Auburn Ave. last year. Kansas is renovating nearly 10K SF into shared workspace to accommodate up to 75 individuals.

Constellations will include private offices, a coffee bar, a conference room, dedicated desks and a podcast studio, Kansas said. The first floor will remain the home of Apex Museum, which features works and photos focused on African-American history.

Gene Kansas Commercial Real Estate founder Gene Kansas

The $2M project recently received a $200K infusion from Invest Atlanta, with funds from the Eastside Tax Allocation District to help with renovation costs. In turn, Kansas is setting aside 25% of the co-working and desk space free of charge for two years to community-oriented nonprofits operating in and around Sweet Auburn as well as two residency program offices for Georgia State and Georgia Tech, according to Invest Atlanta documents.

Kansas has made a name for himself leasing office and retail intown properties in the past. This is his firm's second development project along Auburn Avenue. His firm helped renovate the Atlanta Daily World Building at 145 Auburn Ave. into a mix of apartments and street-level retail.

Kansas said he got the idea for Constellations when he returned to college a few years ago to pursue a master's degree in digital media at Georgia Tech. Doing so, Kansas moved his offices to Centergy to be closer to his classes. While there, he saw the operations of ATDC at Georgia Tech, the tech-focused co-working facility in Centergy, and how it lured companies like Coca-Cola, AT&T and Home Depot. Kansas said he realized those companies were not there because they needed office space.

“They wanted the connection and presence to Georgia Tech,” he said.

It is an industry that Kansas said is nowhere near a peak. And Constellations is not the only act in town. Co-working has become one of the fastest-growing office products in Atlanta in recent years. There are big names, including WeWork, which has three locations, Industrious, Roam, Regus' Spaces co-working concept, as well as other local players such as Atlanta Tech Village and Switchyards in Downtown Atlanta. In all, Colliers International estimates some 1.2M SF in Atlanta is being used by co-working operators.

“I don't think we're anywhere near sating demand for our product in a market like Atlanta,” Industrious CEO and co-founder Jamie Hodari recently said.

The Sweet Auburn location puts Constellations in proximity to not only Georgia State University but also a growing pool of freelance and independent creative workers who are not housed in traditional offices, Kansas said.

“I think that [co-working] is established enough that the real estate industry knows what it is, and they're not afraid of it anymore,” he said. “Relatively speaking, I think we are still at the beginning of this type of work environment.”