Castillos reflect on 10 years of running Spark Plaza in Johnson City

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

I suspect East Tennessee’s oldest co-working space is Spark Plaza in Johnson City. Without a doubt, it’s the oldest locally-owned one.

The facility now located at 404 South Roan Street in Johnson City is celebrating its 10th anniversary tomorrow with an open house from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The official birthday is April 1, an opening date that Co-Founder Jose Castillo said was selected “tongue in cheek.” If you know the fun-loving Pennsylvania native, you know this typifies his personality.

We caught-up earlier this week with Jose and his wife, Shannon, both fixtures in the Northeast Tennessee business community. Spark Plaza is a passion for the couple who have full-time jobs. Shannon is in commercial real estate, while Jose continues his involvement with NASCAR, serving as co-host of the “NASCAR Trackside Live” show.

“Ten years later, this is still a side business for us,” Jose says with a chuckle. “It’s not a get rich quick scheme.”

Spark Plaza was launched in one location, expanded with a second space a few years later, and consolidated last August into a single venue in the 404 South Roan Street building that the Castillos own. It has about 3,000 square feet to serve the 30 members.

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” Jose says. “When we launched 10 years ago, I knew there was a need.” Shannon added that “it feels like yesterday when I was painting walls until 2 a.m.”

Is there a commonality to the types of businesses in Spark Plaza?

“It’s everybody, and we love it,” Jose says. “Creativity comes when you have a great mix.”

One of his favorite quotes is this one: “Creativity comes from scarcity, not abundance.” It has helped guide the way the Castillos launched Spark Plaza and have run it the past decade.

“The ‘let’s build it and they will come model’ doesn’t work,” Jose says in regards to co-working spaces. “You have to run it like a start-up, focusing on customer service and giving them what they want.”

Shannon says the success of Spark Plaza has exceeded her expectations, but quickly reinforces Jose’s point that “it’s about our members.”

Happy birthday to Spark Plaza and congratulations to the Castillos.

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