Hello, Hula: Can Russ Scully Create a Lakeside Tech Scene?
Friday, March 29, 2019
Posted by: Jeff Couture
Hula exterior artist rendering
Source: Seven Days,
by Katie Jickling
Front-end loaders and construction workers crisscrossed the cavernous space that was once the factory floor at Blodgett Oven. Standing in the middle, in a hard hat and down jacket, Russ Scully described his vision for the gutted manufacturing plant on the shore of Lake Champlain in Burlington's South End.
"The energy of this building, in particular, is really exciting," the 49-year-old entrepreneur said of Building 44, pointing out the big double doors through which he hopes more than 500 workers will enter and exit each day.
It's one of three structures on the property that he aims to fill with "high growth potential" tech companies that can turn the 140,000-square-foot campus into Vermont's version of Silicon Valley. Scully is convinced that the project, which he's calling Hula, can jump-start the city's tech scene and serve as a catalyst to help reverse the state's worker shortage.
"It's emblematic of a way forward, I think, for Vermont," he said.
If all goes as planned, cybersecurity ventures, gaming startups, blockchain entrepreneurs and other tech-related enterprises will set up shop in offices ranging in size from 100 to 12,000 square feet.
Hula interior artist rendering
Building 44, the biggest on campus, will include common areas for work and leisure, a fitness center, conference rooms, and an events space. Scully's own restaurant, the Spot, will provide food service in the cafeteria. Offices are planned for most of Building 50, located next door. For now, Galen Healthcare Solutions is in Building 32, the smallest.
"Dynamism — that's what we want," said Rob Lair, who recruits businesses for Scully and will oversee day-to-day operations. "We want charisma in here."
They believe that "vibe," as Scully calls it, is what companies like Apple, Google and Facebook are seeking. Lair and Scully have talked with more than 100 tech-related businesses, including those three, and toured other innovation spaces around the Northeast in their efforts to design and populate the Hula complex. More than 25 businesses, many of them local, have expressed interest in moving in, according to Scully.
Among the companies making verbal commitments are OVR Technology, a South Burlington company that adds an olfactory element to virtual reality, and Benchmark Space Systems, another South Burlington firm that builds engines for satellites. Vermont Technology Alliance is also considering renting space, or at least holding events there.
Guru, a San Francisco-based design company with roughly 20 employees, has agreed to set up a Burlington satellite office, according to Lair. And a Boston firm hopes to use the space as an off-site office for employees who want to spend a few days or weeks in Vermont, or even permanently move here. In a tight labor market, "they feel like it's going to be a competitive advantage for them," Scully said.
He hopes to open Building 50 by December and Building 44 by early 2020. Government officials and tech scene insiders expressed enthusiasm about Scully's vision — if, that is, he can pull it off.
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