A short stroll south of the Union Plaza entertainment district and convention center in Downtown, the Sotoa Building sits on a super-fast fiber optic network and is slowly becoming a hub for tech companies and startups.
El Pasoan Ricardo Fernandez, who also runs the popular Amor por Juárez public awareness campaign, has managed the 100,000-square-foot property since he and the owners restored the building six years ago.
But Fernandez is giving up his job as property manager and launching an entrepreneurial venture of his own on the building’s second floor, joining a growing cadre of young entrepreneurs who are investing in Downtown El Paso.
Fernandez, 33, calls his venture The Station urban offices.
“What I experienced managing the property here is there are a lot of people looking to move Downtown, but mostly looking for small office space,” he says.
So Fernandez leased 8,000-square-feet of space in the Sotoa Building at 500 W. Overland and is turning it into shared office space that will open Aug. 1, he says.
Although construction crews are still hard at work, The Station already has its first tenant – Beto O’Rourke’s congressional campaign.
When finished, the offices will come furnished with Herman Miller-designed modern furniture and phone lines, according to Fernandez.
Tenants will share a receptionist and can rent three conference rooms when needed.
There will also be a common area stocked with food and coffee where tenants can network, Fernandez says.
“What makes this different is the look and design of the space,” he says, referring to the co-working environment, open ceilings, bare brick walls, stark-white drywall and polished concrete floors that give The Station an industrial, modern look.
The walls are decorated with striking murals created by a Juárez arts group called Jellyfish that Fernandez is supporting.
Offices range in size from 100-square-feet to 350-square-feet; rents range from $350 a month for a cubicle to $1,800 for an office that can accommodate six people, according to Fernandez.
Although he wouldn’t say exactly how much he is investing in the project, Fernandez says it’s “a lot of money.”
He adds, “I love everything about Downtown. It’s just the way to go. It’s the future.”
Fernandez is one of a growing number of young El Paso entrepreneurs investing in Downtown.
Most recently, Octavio Gomez, a friend of Fernandez’s, refurbished a two-story building in the Union Plaza entertainment district just down the street from The Station, turning the tired tenement into retail space and 14 apartments called The Mix.
Gomez, 32, says the new apartments are now 100-percent leased.
Fernandez was born in Juárez but attended high school here. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Texas at El Paso and heads up Amor por Juárez.
Loosely based on the “I Love New York” campaign, the Amor por Juárez campaign was launched three years ago in response to the surging violence in Juárez.
Organizers hoped to bring back pride in the city and a respect for the law.
“People are even scared of coming to El Paso because they think there are bullets flying around, and they are poorly informed. That is what has destroyed us the most – Juárez’s reputation as the deadliest city in the world,” Fernandez says.
The city has become safer over the past several months, he says.
“I feel safe when I go to Juárez right now. I just go from point A to point B, only go during the day and avoid the bad neighborhoods,” says Fernandez.
The Sotoa Building’s other tenants include telecommunication company Transtelco, business incubator Hub of Human Innovation, Innovate El Paso, website development company Stanton Street, Sotoa Gallery and SecureOrigins, a company that has engineered a system to speed U.S.-Mexico trade.
Fernandez said the owners of the Sotoa Building did not want to comment for this story. Tax records show the building is owned by Sotoak Realty LLC and is valued at $2.6 million.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.