MANATEE -- A longtime local innovator in providing office space for startups, home-based businesses and companies with limited office space needs is walking away from the 15-year-old venture to pursue something new.
By the end of the month, Bernie Croghan, an owner and founder of ComCenter in Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton, will transfer his interest in the business to a partner as he works to break into the small executive suite market in downtown Bradenton.
Simultaneously, ComCenter, an office space and services company that leases mini-office suites and provides customized administrative support to onsite and remote office clients, will consolidate some of its operations and space while placing separate emphasis on its private office and service components.
By the end of the year, all eight ComCenter employees will be working out of a single administrative office at the 20,000-square-foot Com Center at 9040 Town Center Parkway. The company will close an administrative hub, office and common work space for its clients at 6150 State Road 70. Remaining open at that location will be two, 5,000-square-foot buildings housing private offices leased out by ComCenter.
No employees will be laid off as part of the consolidation.
Croghan said having all administrative personnel in one place will allow them to get more done for clients and cover for each other on sick days and vacations.
"It is not a downsizing," he said. "It's about increasing our services."
ComCenter leases single-person offices starting at $800 per month.
Included in the rent is a full-time receptionist, telesecretaries to answer business
calls, bookkeeping services and common use conference spaces and business machines. Office suites at ComCenter can accommodate companies with up to six team members.
Gary Munch will hold ownership of ComCenter's along with his family. Involved primarily in the real estate business, the Munch family owns the buildings ComCenter occupies. James Munch, Gary Munch's son, will become general manager within the next month. He has worked at ComCenter in various capacities for the past three years.
Munch said the time his father has given him to work at the business has prepared him to lead.
"He's given me so much freedom to explore ComCenter," James Munch said.
For his part, Croghan will remain as a consultant to ComCenter while developing a new business that offers larger small office suites than those available at ComCenter.
"It will be more responsive to corporations looking for smaller regional offices, flexibility and low cost," he said.
Targeted clientele will also include creative and design businesses.
Croghan plans to bid for the old Merrill Lynch building in downtown Bradenton. Manatee County, the building's owner, declared the 20,000-square-foot property as surplus in April. The county has plans to issue a notice for requests for proposal from businesses that want to lease or buy the 89-year-old building. Charlie Bishop, the county's director of property management, said the RFP is not yet ready.
Croghan said he will continue to work with ComCenter while running his new venture, combining purchases of phone, internet and other services to take advantage of bulk discounts.
Munch said Croghan's new venture will "perfectly complement" ComCenter's business.
If the concept takes off, it will fill more vacant or underutilized office space downtown. Office vacancy rates for the downtown core have hovered in the 28-percent range for months after rising well into the 30s during the economic downturn. Dave Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, said he has spoken to Croghan in the past about putting small office suites into the Merrill Lynch building and likes the concept.
"With Bernie, if he's discovered that there's another opportunity out there, there's some validity to it," he said.
Downtown Bradenton has already proven amenable to small office spaces. Mike Carter's Ivey Professional Building caters to this market and it is fully leased with a waiting list.
Gustafson said Croghan won't be the only person or business vying for the Merrill Lynch building. He said he knows of several other parties interested in buying or leasing it.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.