When Allan Suarez and his business partners couldn’t find an affordable office space for sale in Brooklyn for their construction company, things took an unexpected turn. They ended up renovating a late-19th century Victorian mansion in Newark, New Jersey, and turning it into a co-working business.
The co-working industry is booming, as more remote workers and business owners look for affordable workspaces and the chance to find inspiration from each other. By the end of 2017, nearly 1.2 million people worldwide will have worked in a co-working space, and large co-working companies are thriving. WeWork had an estimated market valuation of $20 billion last year.
But not every community has a WeWork or an Impact Hub. Allan and his company, All Renovation Construction, which is known for brownstone restorations, started to look at real estate in Newark—thanks to a friend who worked for then-Mayor Cory Booker. Right away, Allan saw a need for affordable workspaces for entrepreneurs and small-business owners.
“A lot of people we talked to were like, ‘Yeah right, Newark,’” he says. But he saw a city making a comeback after economic hardships that peaked during the 1970s and ’80s, a place that was becoming increasingly friendly to millennials who couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Refurbishing and reusing
When Allan and his partners found the historic Victorian mansion in Newark’s Central Ward, the building housed two lawyer tenants but was in serious disrepair. Allan came up with a vision. By turning the old mansion into a co-working space, he could help local entrepreneurs and business owners in need of affordable office space, and create a home for their construction business at the same time.
After a thorough interior and exterior renovation that included a new roof and refurbishing the original woodwork and hardwood floors, the building opened as the Newark Foundry Workspaces. Today it houses more than a dozen small businesses, including lawyers, developers, nonprofits, and the Little Chapel of Love—a secular wedding chapel.
Many of the co-working tenants are African American entrepreneurs who approached Allan about renting desks and offices during the renovation. Historically, Newark has had a large African American population, so Allan says he’s proud the Newark Foundry Workspaces has helped support the community of African American entrepreneurs.
“If you build it, they will come,” he says. “Newark is the largest city in New Jersey with a growing entrepreneur base, and it deserves affordable work spaces.”
Learning to be a landlord
Allan grew up in a three-story brownstone in Windsor Terrace, a residential pocket of Brooklyn. When his mother passed away in 2005, he decided to divide the home into three units. He’d live in one unit and rent out the others.
At the time, he’d just sold his Latino media company, so he used some of the funds from the sale for the renovation, which he calls a “souped-up, high-end renovation for a single guy.” When it was finished, the brownstone was featured on the HGTV show “Urban Outsiders.”
While he was managing the other two units in the building, one of his tenants asked if he could pay his rent online. That’s when Allan discovered Cozy. “I liked the interface,” he says. “I thought it was very easy to use.” And he liked that it was free for him to use.
Since then, he’s given all his tenants the option to make rent payments through Cozy. These days, Allan lives in Bergen County, New Jersey with his wife and twin sons, so he manages the Brooklyn brownstone remotely. He says rent collection through Cozy is one of the reasons the brownstone is “on autopilot.”
He’s happy many of his co-working tenants are choosing to pay rent through Cozy, too. Since many of them are fledgling businesses that need flexibility with what date they pay their rent, they send him one-time payments.
One of his tenants, Seaview Development, recently joined Allan in helping transform Newark’s Central Ward. The company is planning to to refurbish the nearby Krueger-Scott mansion, a 26-room home built in 1888 by brewery owner Gottfried Krueger. The property has been abandoned and surrounded by barbed wire for decades, and now Seaview will transform it into an affordable housing and co-working center for artists, entrepreneurs, and micro-manufacturers.
Allan and his partners haven’t finished their work in Newark, either. They’re focused on opening a second co-working space in the city during the next few years.
“We love adaptive reuse,” he says. “Reusing existing buildings, their structure and history, and reintroducing them in a positive way into the community.” That approach will mean a brighter future for Newark and its entrepreneurs.