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Arts & Culture

Urban ReThink closes its doors

The co-working and cultural-event space is gone, but parts of the mission may continue

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PHOTO BY ADAM MCCABE



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‘I believe that we’re creating a new social institution, a hybrid of a family and a church and a school and an office.” That’s how Darren McDaniel, the founding director of Urban ReThink, described the Thornton Park culture hub that opened in early 2011. Last Friday it was announced that the executive committee of the nonprofit Urban Think Foundation, of which Urban ReThink is just one initiative, had decided to shut it down. Currently scheduled events for August and September will go ahead as planned, but Urban ReThink will close its doors Oct. 1. It appears to be anybody’s guess whether UR will carry on in a new space, or without a space, and what aspects of their hybrid mission will continue.

The connection between co-working by day and cultural events at night was essential to Urban ReThink’s success in building cultural community. As McDaniel puts it, “The mission of Urban ReThink has been to gather and showcase the independent-minded, community-spirited people of Orlando in ways that produce intellectual community and economic development.” That included a monthly screening from the Global Peace Film Festival, a series of presentations focused on urban planning and civic engagement called Rethinking the City, and Collide*scope, a kind of brainstorm session between three thinkers from different disciplines for solving social problems. It also includes a tight-knit community of co-workers: UR rented desks, essentially, to individuals running small businesses who might need the formality of an office, but couldn’t afford an entire one. At one point the space enfolded a restaurant, the Spork Café. Lest all of this sound oh-so-intellectual, the gigantic motorized googly eyes on one wall and the annual Broomstick Pony Derby are emblematic of Urban ReThink’s unique brand of informality.

As hard as it is to pigeonhole, it would have been impossible to predict how crucial Urban ReThink’s mix of work and play has been in bringing disparate elements of Orlando’s cultural communities into the same orbit and in nurturing nascent artists and businesses. Every co-working space has its own identity, but ReThink stood out by being accessible to creatives outside the tech sector: writers, graphic artists, a nutritionist and a life coach have called UR home.

“The models work together: When you give freelancers the opportunity to, as they close down their work day, walk into an amazing networking situation or an innovative creative event – that’s needed,” says operations manager Shaina Anderson, hired in January 2013. “[But] the feedback that we’ve had from our members and from the community [reflects] that … the space is not conducive to hosting both.”

Though the company that owns the building, Craig Ustler’s Thornton Park Central LLC, asked for only nominal rent from the Urban Think Foundation, keeping the electricity on in a 2,000-square-foot loft full of computers was a challenge. Urban Think Foundation executive director Julia Young says, “The goal was to always be able to support the physical space with the activities that we did, with memberships, and room and event rentals. ... That’s what we did to pay our bills.” But, says Ustler (also the foundation co-chairman), “it was time to do something else with the space, and it was time for the foundation to focus on other things.”

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