By Eric Swedlund –
Tucson’s newest co-working spot is alive in the historic Rialto Theatre block, a flexible and soon-to-be bustling office and workspace perfect for entrepreneurs, small businesses and freelancers.
From the development team of Scott Stiteler and Rudy Dabdoub comes Connect Coworking, the latest venture at Fifth Avenue and Congress Street and one that has transformed the upstairs into a well-appointed hub for professionals who want more than traditional office space. Stiteler said the prominent downtown location, the well-restored building and the attention to detail at Connect serve to make it a thriving part of Tucson’s economy.
“It’s a building that’s romanced a lot of people – myself included – over the years,” Stiteler said. “Probably four or five developers before me have all tried to figure out what to do with such a historically and architecturally significant building that had fallen into disrepair.
“Figuring out how to bring that building back alive has taken a lot of patience,” he continued. “We had somewhere around 60 offers from different businesses – everything from a 10,000-square-foot sports bar to mainstream offices for lawyers.”
Deciding to launch a co-working venture came from taking ideas that Stiteler saw working elsewhere and modifying them for Tucson.
“I live in San Francisco and the city gives me so many different ideas, from restaurants to co-working spaces, from business models to different designs that work with old buildings,” he said. “Co-working has exploded in this area, from a word I’d never heard three years ago to articles in the newspaper about every month about new spaces opening.”
To conceive and design Connect, Stiteler visited more than 50 similar places in the Bay Area, learning what made co-working successful and incorporating the best ideas he saw elsewhere.
“Two years ago, we’d done a lot of the heavy lifting restoring the buildings and had this culinary destination and some wind at our back,” he said. “At that point, we needed to do something other than restaurants and take that next big step. It was time to deliver different uses to the area and co-working satisfies so many of those different needs.”
The power of Connect will come from having about 200 professionals from diverse backgrounds and all parts of Tucson collected in one building with personality and character, all wanting to build their businesses. It’s a power that Stiteler says can transcend Connect to impact the greater economy.
“I hope we can look back in three years and say ‘Here are the 10 companies that started at Connect with one desk and now they’re 20 people or 50 people,’ ” he said. “I’d like to look back in five years and have an example or two of a company that has 100 people and in a perfect world they locate downtown. Those stories are powerful and build on each other. It’s such a great location, such a great building and we didn’t cut any corners on the business, the amenities, the technology or the way we’re treating our members, so they have all the resources to thrive and grow.”
Connect members have 24/7 building access, mail service, conference and meeting room access, copy and printing services and more. Connect offers everything from day use to full, multiperson offices.
“Working in an environment with other people who are trying to be productive and share ideas is necessary. If you don’t have that in a community, you just fall farther and farther behind,” Stiteler said. “In San Francisco, when you walk into the powerful co-working spaces, it’s palpable the commerce that’s happening and idea generating that’s happening there. It’s serious and it’s incredible to watch.”
One tenant company is Injected Media, a firm that brings technical expertise to the ream of marketing, offering a specialty service, targeting new technology products.
“We’re a company that’s similar to a creative agency or a marketing firm, but we know the tech side and that makes us really valuable to people who are trying to sell science or technology products,” said owner Dominique Villela. “Being close to downtown, being close to the University of Arizona, being close to the patent office, all makes it a lot better for us to do business.”
Villela began working on his idea as a UA undergraduate in 2010 and founded Injected Media the next year. The company has grown to six people, all UA graduates or students, and has worked with biotech, optics, aerospace and software.
“My team is looking for vibrancy,” he said. “We’ve had executive suites in town, very high end, very beautiful, very exclusive, but we really didn’t care about all that. We left it because the value we were looking for was in interaction. My employees need to feel positive and they need to see people and interact with people and Connect has that culture.”
Working from home for nine years was enough for Lisa Healey. The Boston transplant works as director of credit for Presidio, a national networking solutions company.
“It just got to be too much, too lonely,” she said. “I wasn’t staying focused on work. A friend mentioned this co-working space and I knew it was for me.”
Since Healey adjusts her work schedule to match the Boston office, Connect’s 24-7 access matters. After struggling for years to find the right fit, Healey said Connect offers the long-term solution she’s been looking for.
“I’ve worked in coffee shops – it was just too noisy,” she said. “I’d go to the library, but have to go outside to take a phone call. I thought about renting a small office, but it would be the same as my home office. I definitely need a professional environment, otherwise I would be lost. I wouldn’t be able to stay as productive as I need to be. I’ve tried a few things, but this is perfect.”