Anne Nickel Cannady was born and raised in Minnesota but has lived an international life. Over the past 20 years she has worked in brand strategy, culture, innovation and immersive experience design with start-ups and leading brands including Starbucks, Avalon Bay, Choice Hotels, Royal Caribbean, and Honda to name just a few. And she’s lived all over the world in London, Cape Town, Detroit, New York, and now San Francisco.
After leaving college in North Carolina, Ann dove into a marketing and HR career in London working with a variety of organizations. Her skillset expanded into workplace culture. By 2010 she was working in the U.S., first at the consultancy Kantar, then as an independent consultant. She joined the PayPal community for six years, becoming Head of Culture, followed by her most recent job as Head of Employee Experience at Fastly.
Now Anne is challenging herself with a project called Alchemy Springs that brings all her skills to play … and more. The plan is ambitious – a social community bath house. The building is ambitious – the transformation of an historic warehouse into a biophilic wonderland. The location is ambitious – a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification. And the financing is ambitious – she’s raising funds through an equity crowdfunding raise in order to let anyone over the age of 18 invest.
We can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Insights and Inspirations
- Biophilic design incorporates natural lighting, ventilation and landscape features in order to create more productive and healthy spaces.
- Anne envisions Alchemy Springs as a modern urban oasis. Winding ‘riverbaths’ and lush surroundings will define it. Blazing steam saunas, frigid cold plunges, a starscape moon bath, an outdoor sun bath, greenhouse and gardens will be built for all to enjoy.
- Anne is based in the Bay Area. But it feels as if she could live anywhere.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:09] Hi there. Thanks for joining me on Rethink Real Estate. I’m Eve Picker and I’m on a mission to make real estate work for everyone. I love real estate. Real estate makes places good or bad. Rich or poor. Beautiful or not. In this show, I’m interviewing the disruptors. Those creative thinkers and doers that are shrugging off the status quo, in order to build better for everyone. When I’m not hosting this show, I’m running my real estate crowdfunding platform, SmallChange.co, where you’ll find impact real estate investment opportunities open to everyone. Or you can learn more about me and catch up on some podcasts at my website, rethinkrealestateforgood.co.
Eve: [00:01:11] Today I’m talking with Anne Nickel Cannady. Anne was born and raised in Minnesota, but she’s lived an international life. Over the past 20 years, she has worked in brand strategy, culture, innovation, and immersive experience design with startups and leading brands, including Starbucks, AvalonBay, Choice Hotels, Royal Caribbean and Honda, to name just a few. She’s lived all over the world – in London, Cape Town, Detroit, New York, and now San Francisco. Anne is challenging herself with a project that brings all her skills to play and more. The plan is ambitious – a social community bathhouse. She plans to transform an historic warehouse into a biophilic wonderland. The location is ambitious – a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification. And the financing is ambitious – she’s raising funds through crowdfunding on my funding platform, Small Change. You’ll want to hear more.
Eve: [00:02:19] If you’d like to join me in my quest to rethink real estate, there are two simple things you can do. Share this podcast or go to patreon.com/rethinkrealestate to support this podcast. For the price of a cup of coffee.
Eve: [00:02:41] Hi, Anne, I’m just really pleased to have you with me today.
Anne Nickel Cannady: [00:02:45] Thanks, Eve. It’s great to be here.
Eve: [00:02:47] You’ve had some really interesting titles like Head of Culture at PayPal and head of Employee Experience at Fastly. But now you’ve moved on to a very different project. And I’d really love you to tell us about Alchemy Springs.
Anne: [00:03:01] Sure. It’s interesting because while I’ve held a lot of different roles, they sort of have all come together for all the skills that I needed to bring this new sort of project to life. But Alchemy Springs came about because in San Francisco, there was a huge community built around some of the hot springs that were, you know, within a couple of hours outside of the city, and one, in particular, burned down in a wildfire several years back. And everyone really missed that community, a community that would gather and be up there. You could, you know, spend the night. There was all these events. And at the same time, we started seeing this rise and this kind of model of these urban bathhouses popping up across the country, so there was one called the Schvitz in Detroit, there’s one, Banya 5, in Seattle. And, all of these really started to bring this community together. You know, for example, I was shocked to learn that, you know, members of the one in Seattle would go four to five days a week. And this whole community was even extended beyond the bathhouse into their local community as a sort of a friendship circle and mentorship circle. So, we looked around at San Francisco, and while we do have a number of spas and sort of bathhouse spas, none of them were quite hitting the mark.
Anne: [00:04:26] There was only one real communal one where you could be social. Most spas, where you really went to kind of check out on your own, not just sort of connect with people. And the one social one that there was, a sort of Russian style banya, it’s a little bit more like a sort of a glorified locker room experience, right? And, you know, maybe wasn’t designed with the guest experience in mind. And so, we really saw this opportunity. And on top of that, San Francisco has this rich history in Sutro Baths. And we met with SF Heritage, who introduced us to the gentleman who wrote one of the famous books on Sutro Baths. And we wanted to learn what the story was behind it, why the mayor at the time wanted to build this grand structure. It was sort of 1894, and it was huge. It was right out over the waters. And at the time, it was quite innovative. He built these almost like little windows, hatches, that would open and close to allow the waters to come in…
Eve: [00:05:37] Oh beautiful, yeah.
Anne: [00:05:37] Yeah. And then he would heat them to different temperatures and all this. And he was inspired by sort of the grand European bathhouses, right? And back then, people were working six days a week and they only had one day off. So, he wanted to find a way that people could socialize with friends or family, but also do something restorative because they only had one day off. And, you know, hydrothermal bathing and all the properties of that, the health properties, he decided to build Sutro Baths. And it really was a place for everybody. So, everyone could have access to this grand experience. And he had gardens, and there was places for, you know, the police and fire department to meet. And it really was a
Eve: [00:06:19] Community gathering place. Yeah.
Anne: [00:06:21] Yeah. A very iconic piece of San Francisco history. So, all of those ingredients together, we thought, this is it. You know, we’ve got to build this in San Francisco. And when the pandemic hit, it only became more important than ever to reconnect the city, which has lost a lot of people, we’ve gotten a lot of new people coming in, but we miss our community. So, it’s kind of perfect timing.
Eve: [00:06:45] Well, what happened to the Sutro Baths?
Anne: [00:06:48] The Sutro Baths actually, there was one point in time it ended up being converted into an ice rink, of all things.
Eve: [00:06:55] Interesting.
Anne: [00:06:57] Yeah. And then it burned down. Gosh, I want to say in the maybe 50s. Yeah, 50s, or early 60s. It burned down. And so now, today, out near Land’s End in San Francisco, there’s these beautiful ruins. I mean, it’s kind of an iconic, you know, tourist destination now right on the cliff side where you can go when you can see a lot of the old cement structures of the different pools.
Eve: [00:07:28] Oh, wow.
Anne: [00:07:28] So it’s, yeah, pretty amazing.
Eve: [00:07:28] You know where I grew up in Australia and they always had rock pools in the ocean, like on the ocean’s edge. Sort of reminds me of the sutro baths but a little bit less grand. They were fabulous places to go and bathe, really fabulous. So, like, where’s your sutro baths? Where’s Alchemy Springs going to be located?
Anne: [00:07:49] Yeah. So, Alchemy Springs is in a neighborhood, kind of the blending of two different neighborhoods. Technically, it’s lower Nob Hill area or sort of upper Tenderloin, right? So they call this neighborhood the Tendernob in San Francisco. And it’s a great up and coming area, right? You know, I think below the Tenderloin has really gone through somewhat of a gentrification. You know, the neighborhood can be a little bit rough, but it’s also been an opportunity for a lot of hospitality, sort of, restaurants and retail to come in. So, a lot of the coolest new bars and restaurants are sort of popping up around there. And then Nob Hill is a great more slightly more higher end neighborhood, tons of residentials, new developments, and then some hotels as well. And it’s about 10- to 15-minute walk west of Union Square, which is obviously sort of the tourist capital for San Francisco with all the hotels
Eve: [00:08:48] And what does the building look like that you’ve chosen?
Anne: [00:08:52] The building’s beautiful. It took us a while to find a building. We looked at so many different buildings, but this one is a 1919 masonry warehouse. A beautiful brick, gorgeous thick wood timber beams. It’s kind of two and a half stories. So, there’s a ground floor and then sort of the mezzanine above which we’re actually going to be raising the roof to create a sort of proper second floor there. And then there’s this basement level, which right now is sort of being used as a parking garage. But we’ll do some excavation and sort of turn that into the baths floor. But the thing that’s super exciting is that it has a 2500 square foot parking lot out back. So our concept has been able to translate into sort of an indoor outdoor flow in this space and being inspired by nature, which Alchemy Springs is, we can bring a lot of those elements, you know, both indoors and outdoors. So, we’re super excited.
Eve: [00:09:50] I’ve seen some renderings of this. It looks pretty fabulous. But maybe you could describe like what the building will contain or what you’re hoping it’ll contain when you, when it’s complete.
Anne: [00:10:00] Sure. I’ll walk you through the guest experience. It’s probably the best. So, from the street level, on Post Street, you’ll see a small retail boutique and there’ll be an entrance into the bathhouse. It’s going to be quite an inspiring grand entrance in that there’s a sort of giant living wall and double storey ceilings right as you walk in, A beautiful sort of rock carved desk area to sit with your friends or family that you’re waiting to go to the baths with. And you’ll check in. And then in the middle of this building is this gorgeous atrium that runs all three levels, with giant skylights at the top that just bring tons of natural light in. And there’s also tons of natural light from the back of this warehouse building. There’s beautiful, most of the walls are windows in the back, so tons of natural light. You’ll get your towel and your, you know, your robe and your slippers, and you’ll walk on either side of this atrium back to the locker rooms. And in addition to male and female, we also have gender neutral locker room and changing room. That was really important to us.
Anne: [00:11:01] So you’ll change and go downstairs to the bath floor. So, you can overlook the baths through the atrium from that locker room floor. But on the baths floor, we’ve got a series of different thermal pools at different temperatures that sort of wind along a path as if it was a river sort of built into these different platforms for accessibility and A.D.A. But we’ll have, on one end is what we’re calling the moon pool, which is going to be, sort of, you know, body temperature, sort of mild in temperature waters with a higher salt content, so it won’t quite be a flotation tank, but you will feel a little more buoyant in those waters, with a sort of domed ceiling above it that drops down a bit with lights and stars. And then lights in the pool as well with some sound. And then around this, the moon pool, and this is one of my favorite things that Lundberg Design, our Architect, has designed. We have a rain shower curtain. So, it almost creates a cave-like experience around the moon pool.
Eve: [00:12:14] Oh, fabulous!
Anne: [00:12:14] Yeah, I’m excited for that one. And then we have a mineral pool, which will be, kind of, mimicking the natural hot springs healing waters with all the minerals, which, you know, are very good for you. We’ll have then a sun pool, which is our warm pool. It’s not the hottest, but it’s warm. The sun pool, and that will be directly across from the cold plunge, which is kind of on this, you know, bath house circuit. You always want to move between the different contrasts of, you know, warm to cold or hot to cold. And then outside, we have a massage pool, which will be a lot of different water jets, maybe some different textures inside, rocks and things that you can sit on to sort of get that massage and that’ll be outdoors in a greenhouse. So that’s the pool part. We also have thermal rooms. So, we have a Himalayan salt cave. Think of it like a Finnish style dry sauna, but with Himalayan salt bricks and a kind of a salt nebulizer that brings amazing detoxification qualities. And then we have a snow shower. So, when you step outside of the hot salt cave, you can take a shower of snow to cool off before you get back in the bath. And then we also have an herbal infusion steam room, which we’ll do with different herbs that have, you know, different healing properties at different times of the day. So, waking up, relaxing,
Eve: [00:13:45] It sounds fabulous, so I want to move to like the financing. And when do you expect to open the doors?
Anne: [00:13:52] We expect the process from closing the capital to opening doors to take about three years. And so right now, we’re looking at probably September of 2024.
Eve: [00:14:03] And how long has it taken you to get to this point?
Anne: [00:14:07] Oh, gosh, there’s been a lot of stops and starts. It’s taken probably just shy of three years.
Eve: [00:14:17] So this is like a five-year project from inception to opening the doors. It’s a long time.
Anne: [00:14:23] Yeah, I think it’s taken many twists and turns. It started as something small. But as we looked into the business model for bathhouses, it made sense for us to actually do something on a bigger scale. Doing something on a bigger scale allows you to have both, sort of, drop ins for not non-members will say or tourists or anyone that wants to come in, but also have enough capacity to cater for members, because building that membership base in the community was really important to us and the bathhouses that exist today, they can’t really do memberships because their capacity is so small and you wouldn’t want members showing up and not being able to get in.
Eve: [00:15:07] Oh, well, I’m going to come back to that. But I do have to ask, so how much is this going to cost to build?
Anne: [00:15:14] Yeah. So right now, the total project cost is about 20 million. And the last sort of six months has been a pretty heavy and detailed due diligence process. My developer, Michael Jarne, has been an absolute gift to the team. He’s got a lot of experience in this. And there’s always that trade off of, how much do you spend upfront to minimize the risk. And, you know, he’s more on the side of, you know, this is a big project and, you know, somewhat unknown concepts in cities. So, we’ve taken the route of, hey let’s spend more and make sure we’re really clear on what this is going to take financially. And, also, you know, that we can do this concept in this space with the city. So, we’re feeling good about that.
Eve: [00:16:05] And then usual concept equals probably no bank interested? Is that right?
Anne: [00:16:13] I think the banks, you know, typically will want to see operating income, right? So, we’ve reached out to some lenders. We have a fantastic relationship with a bank here in San Francisco, does a lot of real estate stuff, and we’ve tested the waters for them of when in our sort of timeline, we might be able to to leverage that. And now most likely, that would be after we open doors. Right now, it looks like a very sort of good net operating income. And so, we would likely be able to get a loan off of that, you know, within the first few years.
Eve: [00:16:49] So, full disclosure, you’ve listed this project on Small Change as a crowdfunding raise for the first phase of it. So, that’s a pretty bold move in amongst all of this. Lots of bold moves here.
Anne: [00:17:06] Yeah, I mean, it felt right. You know, the essence of the Alchemy brand is positive transformation. And that ties back to this idea of alchemy, right? And, you know, we want our space to be a place where people feel transformed, right? But that’s also important to us as a company for our employees, right? We want this to to have improved people’s lives, right? So, there’s things we have, like we’re paying more than minimum wage and giving health care benefits to people that work, you know, I think it’s 30 hours a week, not 40. But the other side of that is that we want to make sure we’re positively transforming the community that we’re in. And so, for us, part of that was allowing San Francisco, or anyone, to own a piece of Alchemy. If it’s for the community, why should the community not benefit from us being here.
Eve: [00:18:07] I love that idea. So, I’m also going to ask you about, this is sort of an edge neighborhood, right? Between a pretty rough one, slightly rough, I don’t know, changing, and one that’s more established. And I’m just wondering how you’re planning to include that community in this space. And, you know, how that will work. I mean, if you’re really going to emulate that mayor’s desire to have a place for community, how does it look there?
Anne: [00:18:38] Yeah, there’s a few things that we’re exploring. And obviously, you know, it’s early days – we’re three years out. But there’s a couple of things. So, built in, right now, we have some sort of basic community programming of offering up our space before we open. So, our opening hours are 10:00 a.m. to 10 p.m. But there is an opportunity to give our back gardens. You know, we’ve got a sort of a Zen meditation garden and a back dining patio. We could absolutely offer that up to the community to host free events. We have a round-up at purchase, which we want to partner with local community groups and give guests the option to sort of round-up and donate to some groups that align with our sort of mission and vision and values. And then the third thing, which, it’s early days but I’m quite excited to pursue this opportunity, is almost sort of kitty corner to us. At the intersection of Post and Hyde, is at-risk Youth Navigation Center that’s just being developed. It was just rented by the city for 20 years. And when I learned about this, I spoke with one of our advisors, who’s the president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and he said, you know, these centers have more bark than bite. And usually, neighbors are afraid that they’re coming into their neighborhood. But a big light bulb went off for me, that this was, actually, an incredible opportunity for us to partner with a group like that and provide job training, apprenticeships, you know, training these these at-risk youth in service industries. So, I’m incredibly excited to pursue that. And I think we could be a sort of model business citizen for how we embrace and support those centers popping up in our neighborhoods.
Eve: [00:20:32] Yeah, I’m sure you’re going to find lots of other opportunities too as you move along. You’ve barely started, right? What about some of the challenges you’ve been confronted with? You said lots of twists and turns. I think finding a building sounded like a really big challenge,
Anne: [00:20:47] Having been new to this, a few years ago, you know, there’s always this chicken or egg scenario you run into, which is, you can’t raise money without the space and you can’t get the space without the money. So, it’s this dance of timing and, you know, unfortunately, we’ve just missed out on some spaces when some of the, you know, initial capital couldn’t come through. So that was certainly one. And then another one was obviously Covid. There was a lot of initial sort of knee-jerk reaction to anything in hospitality and, you know, bath houses. And, you know, is that safe and clean? And, you know, from that standpoint we’re really lucky in that, you know, all of these spas and bath houses have had to convert a lot of their amenities and their procedures around hygiene to now meet new standards. Well, we can design from the beginning, so in a way, we’re three years out, right? So, you know, knock on wood, hopefully we’ll be out of this by then. So that was another major twist and turn. And then the other one on a on a personal level, which, you know, has deep meaning for me in this project, is a dedication to my mother who passed. And she passed away two years ago now, and she passed from cancer. It was her fourth one. She beat three different stage one cancers prior to that across ten years. But from her first cancer onwards, when she’d find out, she would go to Esalin, this beautiful retreat center in Big Sur, and she really found her acceptance and peace in nature. And that was absolutely a huge inspiration for Alchemy Springs and this sort of element of bringing nature indoors. And so, I promised her that she would have her own little heart shaped rock in our gardens and it would be one of her resting places for her ashes. So there has been nothing insurmountable. I have had the most incredible determination to make this happen in her honor so, from a personal standpoint, that was another setback. But also, what has super-charged me to bring this to life.
Eve: [00:23:07] I’m sure she’d be super proud of you.
Anne: [00:23:09] Yeah.
Eve: [00:23:10] So Alchemy Springs is a big new beginning for you. Right? But what’s your big hairy, audacious goal?
Anne: [00:23:18] Wow, what’s my big, hairy, audacious goal? I mean, I would love for Alchemy Springs to just be the first flagship location of a bunch of Alchemys across the country and to use this brand and these spaces as one of many ways to bring the community together around social bathing. So, there’s, you know, different communities out there for the spa industry and sort of the business end, but there are people across the country that are really into this ritual and little micro communities, you know, in all these cities, but we’re not all coming together as one. And so, another grand vision of ours is to pull this community together, you know, online and kind of connect the global bathing community across the U.S., maybe even internationally, so.
Eve: [00:24:14] That’s a pretty big goal.
Anne: [00:24:16] Yeah.
Eve: [00:24:18] Well, my goal is to come out there in three years and try it. So, that’s my goal.
Anne: [00:24:22] I know, I keep saying, phew, with this ride, I’m going to need it at the end of it. So,
[00:24:28] Yes, that’s right
[00:24:28] …selfish reasons. I’m going to need a spa at the end of this.
Eve: [00:24:33] Well, thanks so much, Anne. It sounds like a fantastic project. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Anne: [00:24:40] Thank you. We’re really excited and we’re thrilled to be raising money on Small Change. And I just can’t wait to see how it goes.
Eve: [00:24:48] Me, too. Bye.
Anne: [00:24:50] Bye. Thank you.
Eve: [00:24:56] That was Anne Nickel Cannady. Anne is challenging herself with a project that brings all her skills to play and more. The plan is ambitious – a social community bathhouse. The building is ambitious – the transformation of an historic warehouse into a biophilic wonderland. The location is ambitious – a neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification. And the financing is ambitious – she’s raising funds through crowdfunding on my funding platform, SmallChange.co. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Eve: [00:25:40] You can find out more about this episode or others you might have missed on the show notes page at rethinkrealestateforgood.co, or you can support us at patreon.com/rethinkrealestate for the price of a cup of coffee. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music. And thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon. But for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Anne Nickel Cannady