Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price visited The Stark Building at 750 Main Street in Hartford and spoke with Adam Stark, President of Stark Office Suites, about the importance of supporting a community of business owners in Hartford.
NAN PRICE: Stark Office Suites has 11 different locations throughout New York and Connecticut. Why did you choose to create a presence in Hartford?
ADAM STARK: Our other locations focused on the individual “executive office suite” market, which are mostly one- to four-person businesses. We served a few larger companies and some satellites, but we’ve mostly been focused on the smaller side.
One of the things we saw with a lot of growth companies is, they would move in and it worked out well and they loved it. But, as they continued to grow, we couldn’t scale them in a meaningful fashion and the relationship would ultimately come to a natural end.
We stay in touch with our clients and many would tell us they missed a lot of the things Stark Office Suitaes provided. They wished there was a solution that made sense, so they could have continued to grow with us.
That got me thinking: It would be nice if we could provide something that would enable us to follow a company’s growth cycle. That’s challenging to do that when you’re a tenant subleasing space. The economics don’t make sense. In all our other locations, we’re a large tenant, but we’re still a tenant in a building.
I realized to be able to expand the concept, I needed to own a building. I spent a lot of time researching buildings. Since most of our locations are in metro New York, I started in that area, but I couldn’t find the type of building I was looking for. At one point, my broker asked if I’d thought about Hartford? I hadn’t. I said: Why not take a look?
When I came to see Hartford and saw this building, they both were much better than I expected! I liked what was going on with downtown. There’s an energy here. It felt like a city that was in transition.
This building at 750 Main Street was noteworthy for a few reasons. It’s a 130,000 ft.² building with 102 suites. It was set up the way I wanted a building to be set up, with a lot of small floor spaces and small interlocking suites, which would enable us to accommodate companies in different growth phases. You could add and subtract and move people around.
It seemed like there was a real opportunity to restore the building into something special. There really was really nothing else like it in Hartford. I thought I could accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, which is to be able to provide our offerings not just for single offices, but all the way up to larger 8,000 to 10,000 ft.² spaces.
NAN: When did you purchase the building?
ADAM: November 15, 2017.
NAN: One of your goals was to create a home for new, emerging businesses.
ADAM: Yes. This building seemed like it could be appealing to a broad range of startups, particularly tech startups. We can take away some of the challenges businesses face when they’re starting out. We do our own managed networks. That makes it appealing for startups to be able to come in and have everything set up for them, so they can focus on developing their products or services.
NAN: What types of companies are located in the Stark Building in Hartford?
ADAM: We’ve got a variety of organizations including a few not-for-profits, some tech companies, and several midsize law firm as well as individual attorneys. We focus on anything from a single office up to 8000 ft.², that’s our niche.
On the real estate side, we’re not just renting a space. Having space ready for use is not the same thing as having the space available. We can make the spaces move-in ready and expand with companies.
All our locations are equipped with state-of-the-art technology—but also have a traditional flair, because the people we often appeal to like something classic. This building, before we got here, was old. We wanted to convert old into classic.
The other thing is, we give our tenants access to our other locations. For example, if a tenant wants to hold a board meeting in New York City, we have 10 conference rooms at our suites across the street from Grand Central Station.
We don’t just cater to the tech-type startups, but professional startups. Many professionals are breaking away and starting their own companies. They’re entrepreneurs too. If you’ve been part of a law firm and you’re going out on your own and starting your own practice, you are creating something.
These professional practices aren’t going to be the next Amazon—that’s not what the plan is for them. Not everyone can be and not everyone wants to be. A lot of people just want to have their own operation. I can relate to that. I wanted that.
NAN: How so? Tell us a little about your entrepreneurial experience.
ADAM: I worked in the mergers and acquisitions industry for several years, which was great. I got to see a lot of different types of businesses. I got to see what worked and what didn’t; what was valuable and what wasn’t.
In 2004, I had an opportunity to take my chips off the table and try something different. I live in Westchester County, New York. At the time, I noticed White Plains was starting to undergo a rebirth and I wanted to figure out how to get involved with it.
I thought it would be interesting to provide a place for professionals to set up shop. That concept isn’t unique. But generally, the focus had been on providing a temporary solution.
Well, what if instead of it being a temporary solution, it was a community? When you’re out on your own, it’s lonely. I thought it would be nice to create an environment where there were colleagues without being an employee or co-worker. I wanted to try and create something that was higher-end, where people would feel comfortable and they would feel there were folks in similar types of professions around to develop a community feeling.
I started out with a 7,200 ft.² building that was probably the emptiest building in Westchester county at the time. I remember thinking: This is either really smart, or really dumb and I’m going to find out soon!
Fortunately, things worked for the city, the building, and us. And it grew out from there.
NAN: According to your website, your tenants “become part of our unique networking community that encourages entrepreneurship and business growth.” In what ways?
ADAM: We host community events throughout the year where our tenants can network. But we found the events aren’t what creates the community—it’s the people in the building.
We realized, aside from our orchestrated events, people were really developing the community around the kitchenette or by the water cooler.
Our spaces start to develop a life of their own. I can’t tell you how many people have done business together by being neighbors—whether it’s a real estate attorney who met a developer on another floor, or an emerging tech company who got to know the accountant down the hall.
That’s what we’re hoping to develop here in our Hartford location—the sense of building community. We also use social media to help our tenants get to know one another. We’re careful to balance community with privacy.
NAN: How are you marketing and making people aware of the available space?
ADAM: Some quality tenants were already here when we came into the building. Our goal has been to try and populate the rest of the building with vibrant, growing businesses.
We’re marketing through brokers and online directly to try to create a presence. The focus has been not so much occupancy percentage, but life. How do we get more people in? Because people beget people.
The challenge in all our locations is getting that critical mass going. Once you have the critical mass, people have friends, they bring in people, it all feeds on itself.
NAN: Let’s talk about the importance of fostering entrepreneurship here in Hartford.
ADAM: My feeling is that for Hartford to continue to develop, it has to attract a diverse group of people and organizations.
If there are different types of businesses that all want to be downtown, it creates a fabric where people feel it’s desirable to be here because there are other businesses they want to do business with here. It creates a whole ecosystem of people doing business with one another—people meeting in local coffee shops and going to restaurants downtown.
I think on the professional side, that’s where The Stark Building could play a role, by creating another home in downtown Hartford that could cater to these types of businesses. And, as these businesses continue to grow, they wouldn’t have to leave Hartford.
My thought was that this building would maybe thread that needle for businesses to start here—and want to stay here. It’s also a place for them to grow in Hartford and continue to become part of the community.
Learn more about Stark Office Suites and The Stark Building