Technology firm moves to CRA building in 5th Avenue area
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 1:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 1:31 p.m.
After 2 1/2 years as a vacant, unfinished shell, the first-floor office space at the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency building has a tenant.
Three weeks back, Gainesville-based technology firm SharpSpring relocated from the downtown Sun Center to the CRA building in the 800 block of NW 5th Avenue.
Rick Carlson, founder and president of SharpSpring, said the location offered close proximity to downtown, the Innovation Hub and the NW 6th Street and NW 13th Street corridors. The location allows most employees to walk or ride a bike to work, he said.
"I think it's kind of off the beaten path for a technology firm, but it's very close," Carlson said. "It's just off the beaten path. We're very pleased with this location."
Carlson said SharpSpring, a software firm that specializes in marketing analysis, currently has six employees and may expand to 15 to 20 in the next few years.
In attracting the firm, the CRA was able to lease out office space that has stood vacant since the building opened in August 2010. The city decided to locate the new $900,000 CRA building in the 5th Avenue/Pleasant Street district in an effort to show a commitment to the redevelopment of the area.
The building included first-floor space to try to draw an office, retail or restaurant tenant and additional business activity.
But years passed with no tenant. Then, Carlson said his chief technology officer drove by the vacant office space in the CRA building, which piqued his interest. Carlson checked it out and was immediately drawn to it.
"I'm a sucker for modern architecture," Carlson said.
Carlson said the building offered affordable rent, LEED certification for its energy efficiency, an open floor plan and good natural lighting.
The terms of a three-year lease have SharpSpring paying the CRA $16,292 up front with an additional payment of $1,357 in month 12. Monthly rent payments increase to approximately $1,398 in year two and $1,440 in the third year.
Shaad Rehman, the business development coordinator for the CRA, said the first-floor office space stood as a shell until it was known what type of tenant would locate there. Then, the space was built out with the floor, interior walls, fixtures and restrooms installed.
Some five blocks west of the CRA building along 5th Avenue, Sweet Berries eatery also opened for business this month. That restaurant has approval for a $10,000 CRA grant to reimburse half the costs of recent facade improvements to the building.
Sweet Berries owner Janice Easton said SharpSpring employees have emerged as loyal customers.
Longtime area property owner Albert White, co-owner of the White and Jones Commercial BUilding and 2 Friends Coffee Shop, said Sharp Spring and Sweet Berries both benefit the neighborhood by occupying vacant office and restaurant space.
White recalled the bustling activity along 5th Avenue 50 years ago and expects the neighborhood will never reach that level of activity again. There has been progress, but vacant or blighted buildings hamper that progress, he said.
One particular cause of concern, he said, is the Mom's Kitchen property that the City Commission purchased in 2009 for $165,000. The former restaurant stands along 5th Avenue in the middle of a redevelopment district but was not purchased with CRA money and is not a CRA redevelopment project. Four years after the city purchased the building, it stands boarded and vacant.
"It has contributed to the blight that has already stigmatized 5th Avenue," White said.
Red Robin Gourmet Burgers is currently hiring to fill more than 100 jobs for the new restaurant to open at The Oaks Mall in late March.
Applications are available at www.redrobin.jobs. As of Monday morning, available jobs included server, host/hostess, expediter, bartender, line cook, dishwasher and busser. Applicants must be 18 or older.
Red Robin is a casual dining restaurant chain with 473 locations across the U.S. and Canada.
— Anthony Clark
Anthony Clark is the Gainesville Sun business editor and Christopher Curry is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.