BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — The Shetland Park waterfront business center has so much space inside its cavernous Building 4 that producers of “Grown Ups 2” used a portion of it to construct the top half of a house as a set last summer.
With 1.5 million square feet in all, Shetland Park has plenty of space to offer. But those seeking space for large corporate headquarters and massive manufacturing plants are rare nowadays.
So, the waterfront office park is thinking small as a way to attract entrepreneurs with big ideas, in hopes that they will grow their new businesses and someday occupy more space in the office park, which is 63 percent rented. Shetland Park is tapping into a trend that allows business people to rent small office spaces with amenities like WiFi access, private cellphone booths, conference rooms and mailing addresses.
At a time when you can work virtually from anywhere, Shetland Park has jumped into the co-working space trend with a new Rent-A-Desk center in which tenants can rent a desk in a shared office for $150 a month. The center is located in a former cotton weave shed known as Building 4, where the movie set was located last summer.
”For $150, you get a legitimate business site, where sometimes that’s out of reach for people,” said John Kelly, vice president of Shetland Park.
The shared office space where the 24 desks are located offers stunning views of Salem Harbor. The hope is it will attract business people who need a safe harbor for their startup.
”A lot of times, they start in a house and they need a business address,” Kelly said. “That’s where the difference lies. They have a legitimate business address, they can get a business license, they can do anything they want.”
The shared office space has an advantage over a home office in that there are fewer distractions, Kelly said. A shared office also provides the type of interaction and networking opportunities staying at home cannot provide.
The Rent-A-Desk program opened just last week after being under development for nine months. It was a pet project of Shetland Park’s owner, Robert Lappin of Swampscott.
Shetland Park already has a Small Business Center in which entrepreneurs can rent one-room offices. Of its approximately 50 small offices, only three are vacant.
The weave shed was once part of the former Naumkaeg Steam Cotton Company or Pequot Mills, which burned down in the Great Salem Fire of 1914. After the fire, the mill rebuilt with fireproof steel-reinforced concrete buildings, including the massive weave shed. At one time, the shed had no walls inside to accommodate the massive looms used to convert raw cotton into sheets.
Inside the Rent-A-Desk space are large windows and 24 desks tucked into substantial cubicles made of stained poplar wood. It’s the same type of design Kelly used in the Registry of Deeds office at Shetland Park, something workers there liked.
“I did not want a cubicle look; that was what I was trying to avoid,” Kelly said.
The desks are tiered so that no one has to look at the back of another person’s head, giving one a sense of privacy. Renters also get access to a locked filing cabinet at their desk.
”Even though it’s a desk, you can still feel like you are in your own space,” Kelly said.
There’s also a “cell” room where personal calls can be made in private (a red light goes on above the door when the room is occupied).
The space also offers a small conference room, a kitchenette and down a long corridor, a bank of mailboxes. There’s free WiFi and access to a wireless copy and fax printer. Access is 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. Security cameras and guards provide security.
Kelly said tenants do not have to feel chained to their desks long-term, as rentals run month-to-month.
To get a feel for the idea, Kelly toured other co-working office sites in Boston and Cambridge and found them full. He’s had two showings already for the desks.
What did Kelly see in Boston?
”Common spaces, common work areas,” Kelly said. “They have got all the WiFi, all the mail, the same concept.”
The idea is that those incubating a business may start by renting a desk, then move up to a small office, and then hire employees and need more room to grow, with Shetland Park providing that space, Kelly said.
Shetland Park is not the first to try this idea on the North Shore, though it is more common in large cities.
Several online businesses offer versions of the concept. There’s a service by a startup called Breather that lets clients rent on-demand office space by the half-hour or for the entire day, making reservations using an app on a smartphone, according to its website. Another service called Green Desk offers month-to-month office and retail space in New York City. Yet another service called Share Desk allows businesses with extra work spaces to rent them out or to search for available co-working space.
The Cummings Center in Beverly offers 35 offices in the The Cummings Executive Suites that can be rented for $20 a day, according to Steve Drohosky, vice president and general manager. There’s a front-desk receptionist, furnishings and a lounge with comfortable furniture.
One can also rent a desk in a shared room, with Internet access, a conference room and amenities like a kitchen with coffee.
The center also has larger day offices for rent for $215 a day and virtual offices where someone can receive mail for $75 a month.
”It probably is a trend,” Drohosky said of the move to co-working spaces. “It probably is more of a metropolitan, city concept that is making its way to the suburbs, slowly.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.