No More WeLives Until The Concept 'Is 10 Times Better,' Exec Says
WeWork's co-living concept, WeLive, is only six months old. And while the $16B co-working giant planned to open several more WeLives around the country this year, that's on pause while the startup "iterates," according to East Coast GM Dave McLaughlin.
Dave, speaking with Crystal City BID CEO and WeLive resident Angie Fox at Bisnow's annual multifamily conference in DC recently, said the company has been encouraged by the launch of the first two locations—in Arlington, VA, and on Wall Street in Manhattan—but isn't ready for any more at the moment.
"There’s a lot of refinement of the idea, tweaking certain things we tried and improving," Dave said. "We’re really in that iterative cycle now. WeLive 2.0 is not going to be 10% better, but 10 times better, and we want to nail that down before we make more deals."
Dave didn't specify what exactly that would entail, but WeWork has its sights set on buying its own properties, and has said that unexpected construction costs are part of the reason it slashed profit projections earlier this year.
The two WeLive locations were once office buildings—and both also have WeWorks in the same building—so it's fair to speculate if WeLive 2.0 will come in the form of new construction.
The old office building WeWork converted in Crystal City, much like most of the buildings in Crystal City, is owned by Vornado. The REIT's head of DC multifamily, Toby Millman, says WeWork's lease is for 20 years, and the project has always been seen as a temporary solution to Vornado's Crystal City office vacancy problem.
"We saw this as a short-term fix as part of a longer-term change," Toby said. "The development zoning in Crystal City allows for much, much taller buildings than are there. It’s unlikely that we’d retain most of the buildings there in their current form."
WeWork's lease for its two floor co-working space and the nine-floor co-living space is structured entirely as an office lease, Toby said.
WeLive Crystal City is broken into three, three-floor "neighborhoods" combined by internal staircases. Angie lives in one of the neighborhoods with her 13-year-old son.
"I liken it to a European condo," she said. "It’s a really nice personal space. My 13-year-old son has a Murphy bed, so he’s the coolest kid in the eighth grade."
WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvy made sure the hallways on the floors had no dead-ends, Dave said, so no one would be "forced to retreat" if they walked into an unwanted conversation. They can walk right on by.
It's design innovations like this that make WeLive shy away from being branded as "micro-units." Most people have taken to calling them "adult dorms," but that's not 100% right either. But when Dave is asked "is it just an adult dorm?" he doesn't reject the notion.
"What's wrong with that? Some of us would like to go back," he said with a smile. "When you describe the idea of co-living, they associate it with dorms because that’s the only experience they have. People ask us that, and we try to fumble through language to show them why it’s not. Then we just say, ‘Come over. Just come over, we’re watching The Bachelor.’"