When Brooklyn-born Allan Suarez saw a debilitated mansion in Newark, New Jersey, a lightbulb went on. Many lightbulbs. As a co-owner of New York City-based All Renovation Construction, which specializes in remodeling and restoration of historic homes, a vision for a cowork space emerged. He turned the mansion into the Newark Foundry in 2017. A place where locals could feel like they were working from home or for those unable to afford higher prices downtown. Suarez, a long-time builder, and his team restored the mansion to revitalize a block, and a mindset.
Newark has been on the verge of transformation from its once broken-down streets to a new resurgence of luxury hi-rises and rent increases. Suarez saw a big gap that he could fill. He didn’t feel like the community should settle for less, when they had resources like landmark buildings they could use to realize their own dreams.
Maryann Reid: What was that first moment like when you realized this mansion could be a coworking space?
Allan Suarez: Once I toured areas like Lincoln Park and the High Street district, where we purchased our building, and saw beautiful historic mansions available to buy, I knew we could execute our plan to revitalize a blighted mansion and bring entrepreneurs back into the community. We were initially worried because of Newark's negative reputation, but we were pleasantly surprised of Newark’s steady transformation and revival.
Reid: There were other options: a bed and breakfast or an office for one company. Why a cowork space?
Suarez: No other options. The vision was always coworking and executive suites. In 2012, I assisted my collegiate friend Joel Pool with the online marketing for an idea that would eventually become The Port Workspaces in Oakland, CA. Visiting his 1st and 2nd coworking locations, thereafter, inspired me to launch a similar business on the east coast.
Reid: Newark has seen revitalization in the last several years. What are you doing to keep this cowork space accessible and affordable to local people, and not just the new people moving in?
Suarez: We have remained constant with our pricing which is below market rate. We remain very active in Newark attending and sponsoring local events and having events on-site at our space. We allow not only our tenant members to create events, but also invite local entrepreneurs to present their business services to our members. We are also keeping our space affordable by charging a flat monthly rate for our member office suites which included base rent, utilities, internet, conference room access, and one parking space.
Reid: If you could do anything to make your cowork space better, what would it be?
Suarez: I wish we had more space to hold larger events. One of our tenants is a company called Little Chapel of Love LLC which is helping locals with affordable weddings at our mansion. This is the type of entrepreneurial spirit we love at our space and enjoy tremendously
Reid: Walk me through the steps of realizing this was the perfect building to completing the restoration. At any point did you feel this was a crazy idea?
Suarez: The goal was to find a property where we could aptly re-use the services and experience gained as owners of All Renovation Construction. We had originally put in an offer on a beautiful brownstone in the Lincoln Park district, but that fell through so we immediately jumped on 569 MLK Blvd, an historic gilded age mansion built as a convalescent care center for Newark residents over 100 years ago. We had 16 rooms already designed as clinical rooms so it was an easy retrofit to individual office suites. Our family support and the welcome we received from Newark's Economic Development Corporation and Newark City Hall via Mayor Ras Baraka and Deputy Mayor Carmelo Garcia was extremely uplifting and kept us going to the finish line.
Reid: Where did you find the money to buy the mansion?
Suarez: My company All Renovation Construction has had a long standing relationship with our current bank. Through this fostered business relationship we were able to purchase the property fully funded by bank mortgage.
Reid: Coworking spaces are not known to be very lucrative or make anyone a millionaire, unless you're a WeWork. Many break even. Are you offering other services to make profits?
Suarez: We purchased the property at the right time when it was still a buyer’s market. We also were able to fill our available spaces within a six-month timeline of opening our doors officially. Currently, we make available to rent our conference room to non-members and offer mailbox services for local entrepreneurs. We are making a profit.
Reid: You decided to move your cowork idea from Brooklyn to Newark. What motivated that?
Suarez: I am close friends with Silvia Alvarez who was then Senator Corey Booker's State Press Secretary in 2014. I had told her I was looking for a location to start a coworking initiative in Brooklyn, NY. She immediately had me redirect my attention to Newark due to her history with the Mayor/Senator. I also lived 20 minutes north of Newark with my family in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, so the renovation phase was manageable.
Reid: What is your ultimate vision for this space?
Suarez: My ultimate vision was to use my construction background together with my love for historical buildings and create a unique collaborative workspace for entrepreneurs in Newark. Since launching Newark Foundry and using my participation in Project REAP as a catalyst I would like to create a youth real estate initiative introducing inner city youth to real estate development processes through apprenticeship positions and internships within companies that represent real estate, banking, development, construction, engineering, and architecture.
Reid: What's next for the space? Are you working on any new initiatives?
Suarez: Yes, due to our successful launch of the Newark Foundry Workspaces we submitted a response to an RFP by the City of Newark for land available in the East Ward. We have taken steps to initiate an Affordable Housing development with a community center outfitted with a Kitchen space focusing on healthy food preparation for urban families. The Engine 10 Village is aptly named due to the fact that the land is the former location of Newark's decommissioned Engine 10 Firehouse.
Reid: What's an important book that you read? Or personal mantra you live by?
Suarez: Beyond Entrepreneurship - Turning Your Business Into an Enduring Great Company by James C. Collins and William C. Lazier. A must read for any entrepreneur who wants insight how to build the foundation of a successful business. I have a current mantra printed out at my desk: 'Stay Engaged'. I use this to motivate me on a networking level, client level and team leadership level. Staying engaged to me means reaching out to people on a personal level all the time so they know who I am and that I care about our interaction. In the world of cellphones, texting and iPads it's really important that we do not forget to "Stay Engaged" with our family, employees, clients, and friends.
Reid: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Suarez: I am a huge fan of advocates or champions who uplift you, your ideas or anything positive you are bringing to the table. I implore people to surround themselves with this type of community because this will help you grow personally and professionally.
Article featured in Forbes Magazine: www.forbes.com/sites/maryannreid/2019/02/21/founder-allan-suarez-newark-mansion/
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