Following a star-studded announcement panel discussion and party during this year’s SXSW Tech Week festivities, The Gathering Spot’s co-founders Ryan Wilson and TK Petersen are closing in on finalizing locations for their Washington D.C. expansion.
The D.C. location, Wilson and Petersen told The Atlanta Voice during an exclusive sit down at the original The Gathering Spot here in Atlanta, would enable the duo and their investors to both grow their community and offer their current membership many of the same amenities they enjoy at the Atlanta headquarters.
“We’re super excited to announce that we’re going to Washington,” said Wilson, who serves as the club’s CEO. “It’s a second home for me and from the very beginning, we thought D.C. could be a great second city for us to go to. So, we’ve been working quietly for the last year or so, getting ready for this announcement. I couldn’t be more excited to finally tell folks.”
What is interesting about the D.C. location is that it brings with it a bit of nostalgia for the duo, who met in the capital city during their undergraduate years at Georgetown University. Though they always knew they wanted to expand to D.C., Wilson knew that starting The Gathering Spot in Atlanta was always the right course of action.
“D.C. is a second home (to me), but Atlanta’s home,” Wilson explained. “I knew when we were starting this process that Atlanta needed to be the first place to do it. It’s just a special city.
“I don’t think there’s any place you’re going to find around the country that has a corporate presence, a growing entrepreneurial scene and a music and film world that’s also growing at the same time,” he continued. “We wanted to incubate our concept here and then expand.”
Petersen, who is original from the US Virgin Islands, views D.C. as his first stateside home and is stoked about the opportunity to expand the club’s footprint into a city that means so much to him and Wilson.
“You’ve gotta understand, the most exciting part about opening another location is the opportunity to expand the community some more,” Peterson said. “The heart and soul of The Gathering Spot is our membership community. So, to have another opportunity to add more brilliant people to it is so exciting. It goes over the top for us.
“D.C. is a community we know very well,” he continued. “To be able to present The Gathering Spot to friends and families and colleagues and peers from Georgetown and where we worked, and the communities we were a part of while we were there is a special opportunity. It means a lot to me.
Peterson said that the duo has a few very strong options but they have not finalized on anyone just yet. “We have a shortlist, but we’re just going through typical negotiations,” he said.
Petersen did say that they were targeting a location in the Central Business District, somewhere near the core of the city.
As far as future expansions beyond D.C. and Atlanta anytime soon, Wilson said the duo have already been exploring.
“The map is large. I spent a lot of time touring different markets and really trying to figure out, ‘We’re an Atlanta-based club. Where are our members traveling to and where else should we have a footprint?’” Wilson explained. “I expect that by the end of next year, we’ll announce another site in another city.”
If there was proof of concept needed, the two certainly found it in Atlanta in a relatively short time. In under two years, the club boasts more than 1,000 members comprised of Atlanta-based celebrities, corporate shot callers, government officials and some of the most highly sought-after creatives in the region.
People visit The Gathering Spot to make deals — serious deals. On the same day that The Atlanta Voice met with Wilson and Petersen, the club’s event space was being utilized by the Future Foundation and its founder—former Atlanta Hawks player Shareef Abdur-Hakim—were honoring a number of corporate executives for their work in the community and philanthropic efforts, including keynote speaker Rodney Bullard, who serves as Chick-fil-A Inc’s Vice President of Community Affairs, executive director of the Chick-fil-A Foundation, and author of new book “Heroes Wanted.”
“Depending on when you are here, there are things happening at The Gathering Spot all the time,” Wilson said. “During the day, we specialize in a lot of corporate functions, but as you move through the evening, it becomes a lot more social.”
At the luncheon, Bullard was presented with the Future Foundation’s Jean Childs Young Individual Leadership in Education Award while SunTrust Bank was presented with the Ann Cramer Corporate Leadership in Education Award.
Attendants of the event included Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim (Future Foundation CEO), former NBA player Theo Ratliff, City Councilman André Dickens, Magic 107.5 Chubb Rock, former Georgia State Senator Jason Carter (grandson to US President Jimmy Carter), Dr. Duke Bradley III (Principal, Banneker High School) and more.
But names like these are commonplace at The Gathering Spot. The club boasts memberships by Atlanta power movers like Clifford “T.I.” Harris and Will Packer and a host of others Wilson declined to disclose. Harris was a panelist and performer at The Gathering Spot’s SXSW announcement party.
“I won’t disclose The Gathering Spot’s entire group of members, but a ‘lot of great people, like T.I. and Packer, a number of elected officials,’ and others have all been helping in spreading the word and showing what is special about the club,” he said. “You can find a T.I. sitting next to an elected official, sitting next to a startup CEO, sitting next to someone from corporate America. When folks spend time in this space, people are able to see our true vision for what we want the club to be in the future.”
Was there any magic and special recipe involved in creating such a successful enterprise? Intentionality, Wilson contended.
“It was a long process but we try to be upfront with what our values were from the very, very beginning,” Wilson explained. “To be a member of The Gathering Spot is to really be interested in the power of connectivity — making sure you’re in an environment where you can meet people from all walks of life.
“Yes, we are fortunate to have people who have bought into that vision of what the club is going for. But really, of what the world should be moving for —you’re connected folks from all different backgrounds,” he added.
That intentionality, Petersen echoed, was also important in maintaining a space that was inclusive and exclusive for its members.
“It all goes back to being intentional from the very beginning the type of community you’re trying create,” he said. “We knew that looking into the private club/city club model that women traditionally were not included in that space.”
By comparison, membership in The Gathering Spot is about 65 percent comprised of women.
“We do things that are intended to make sure that women from all different backgrounds and ages know that this is a club that is open for them,” Wilson said. “That same approach across all their different identity groups and looking fully at what diversity means, we are intentional about making sure people know that they have space here.
“I don’t know if there’s any one thing that we’ve done other than be really intentional about making sure that our members feel comfortable while they’re here.”
As far as the future of the club goes, Wilson and Petersen have agreed that they and their team are going to continue to look for great people from across the city, and make sure “we’re doing the best that we can to connect them to one another.”