Foundry 66 to celebrate first anniversary with party, expansion
Norwich — When Norwich Community Development Corp. officials counsel fledgling entrepreneurs about the ups and downs of starting a new business, they only need to turn to their own experiences converting the vacant former Norwich Bulletin building at 66 Franklin St. into a shared workspace center to prove the point.
Just one day after celebrating a ribbon-cutting grand opening Oct. 14, 2016, leaders of the city’s economic development agency waded dejectedly through water and smoke-damaged carpeting, floors and furniture. An electrical fire in a ceiling crawlspace had caused $110,000 in damage. Three businesses already had signed up.
When repairs were made quickly and NCDC signed a 10-year lease that was inked in January 2017, Foundry 66 was off and running. A year later, all nine offices and six desk spaces at Foundry 66 are occupied by a mixture of start-up businesses, an attorney, real estate agents, a therapeutic yoga expert and a sprinkling of nonprofit agencies. Their owners range in age from 22 to 65, said Jill Fritzsche, Foundry 66 community manager.
Outside entities also use Foundry 66 facilities regularly, including home health care training conferences, NAACP and the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition. Fritzsche also hosts a Wine Down Wednesday business networking group open to outside businesses.
Foundry 66 conducted a survey of how much its members and patrons spend in the local community and estimated the total at $326,000 for the first year.
“And we’re about to double in size,” Fritzsche said.
NCDC will celebrate the successful first year of Foundry 66 Wednesday with a reception at Epicure Brewing — a neighbor in the same former Bulletin complex — for some 50 to 60 people who helped the project get off the ground, recover from the fire and thrive in the months that followed.
NCDC President Robert Mills said he wants to thank everyone, from city firefighters and police, building inspectors, Norwich Public Utilities crews and Public Works Department maintenance staff to the businesses that gave Foundry 66 a chance. Yoga therapist John Benbow was one of the first tenants. And when Mills had doubts that anyone would want a dark, rear office space, along came a videographer who thought it perfect for his venture.
When Mills needed to clean overgrown brush from long-neglected crevices outside the building, public works crews came to clean the brush “and give an extra sweep” of the perimeter to spruce it up.
“Some of them, I don’t even know their names,” Mills said. “The guys who dig the holes in the street for utilities. ... The employees of the city are willing to do anything to help once they’re asked.”
The idea of launching a shared workspace facility in the former Bulletin building started about four years ago with then-NCDC Vice President Jason Vincent, now a partner in Epicure Brewing, and building owner Tim Owens. Mills admitted the idea had to grow on him, but he realized there were so many business entrepreneurs coming to the former NCDC office on Main Street that the agency couldn’t help.
NCDC used its cash reserved for unspecified economic development projects to fund the start-up. He estimated NCDC has invested about $320,000 into the project, including the new expansion. While the fire was a financial setback in lost potential earnings, the operation should be in the black by mid-year 2018.
Mills credited Fritzsche for smooth daily operations that will allow him to focus on traditional economic development efforts, such as marketing available Norwich properties, meeting with prospective developers and tracking property transactions.
“Jill is a miracle worker with relationships in the community,” Mills said.
While NCDC will pause to raise a glass in celebration Wednesday, the work continues. In what Fritzsche called the completion of phase one, on Feb. 1, three new offices and three new desks will be available. One office and one desk already are taken. She plans to consult with Maple Lane Farms owner Allyn Brown, who grows hydroponic vegetables, about creating a small hydroponic garden in one area.
Phase two also is underway, to convert the second-floor former Bulletin newsroom into seven more offices, 11 designated desks, a large conference room and two small conference rooms. Those renovations are expected to be completed in April.
Unlike the first phase, the second-floor renovations are being done by Owens, the building owner, in a partnership arrangement with NCDC, Mills said. Owens will retain the rents from businesses on the second floor and will pay NCDC to manage the facility and provide the same shared workspace and business services to occupants.
Construction workers Stephanie Fraijo and Matthew Forbes are knocking out long-bricked-up windows to let in light and designing a large square flexible classroom that could double as a yoga space.
But it’s phase three that has Fritzsche the most excited. In the far end of the complex, on the main floor of the former Sunlight building in the complex, Foundry 66 plans to create eight small — 100 to 200 square feet each — retail spaces for artisans, crafts people and maybe a small bookshop and Army-Navy surplus shop. The common area will have a piano, a coffee kiosk and space for authors to have book signings. Foundry 66 hopes to dot the area with statues or décor for sale.
“We have to get people off Amazon,” Fritzsche said.
The retail area could open by mid-summer, she said, because that space doesn’t need much work.
Then a phase four, eight larger offices, will be created in the area above Epicure Brewing, “probably at this time next year,” Fritzsche said.
Jackie Quercia, who has owned Norwich Coin and Jewelry with her husband, Pete, at 35 Franklin St. for the past 32 years, said she has seen the street transform from good to bad and now back to good. When the former Bulletin building went dark, Franklin Street turned “empty and depressing and disgusting.” As a destination business with regular, loyal customers, Quercia’s business survived. She turned down a chance to move to a West Main Street shopping plaza.
Now, she is thrilled with the turnaround, from These Guys Brewing Co. at one end of the commercial block to Epicure at the other end and Foundry 66 in the middle.
“It has put more people on the street absolutely,” she said of Foundry. “We’ve had people come into our store from there. I can’t think of one thing bad on it. I love the idea of a mini-mall, and they’ve already got it all rented. More feet on the street.”
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