SAWTOOTH ADDS CREATIVE BITE TO RED BANK

Sawtooth Group principals Kristie Bridges and Jay Quilty in the firm’s new third-floor space at Corporate Plaza before the move-in last weekend. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank got a double-barreled economic and creative infusion with the opening of Sawtooth Group‘s new headquarters in long-vacant space on West Front Street Monday.

Local officials and merchants expect the ad agency’s wholesale move of 60 employees from Woodbridge to the five-year-old Corporate Plaza complex, at the corner of Pearl Street, will give a jolt to downtown restaurants and stores.

But firm principal Kristie Bridges, of Rumson, tells redbankgreen there’s a third way in which Sawtooth hopes to make its presence felt: through volunteerism.

“We always wanted to be in a culturally rich town, with a sense of community,” she said. “We really feel we could get involved here and be inspired here.”

Sawtooth, founded in 1988 by partner Bill Schmermund of Holmdel, touts its community outreach efforts as an integral element of its culture. The firm does pro bono work for charities in Asbury Park and New York, and expects to fold Red Bank organizations into its portfolio as well, Bridges said.

“Hopefully, we’ll get involved with Lunch Break,” she said of the West Side food kitchen and clothing distributor.

The firm, with annual billings in the $150 million range, took 20,000 never-used square feet on the third-floor of the complex, owned by Mack-Cali and the PRC Group. Sawtooth subletting the space from tenant Hovnanian Enterprises, the publicly traded homebuilding company whose headquarters is across the street. Hovnanian had planned to occupy the entire building, but scaled back its commitment when the real estate economy tanked beginning in 2007, while the four-story structure was still being erected.

Other major tenants include the street-level restaurant Pazzo MMX, Rochdale Securities, the law firm Genova Burns Giantomasi & Webster and an office of Deutsche Telekom.

Sawtooth’s new home features exposed utilities overhead, a “creative discovery area” with two exposures and a two-sided, 50-foot-long central work table that will be shared by dozens of workers. A long, curving wall defines the reception area and lounge, where employees are free to crash and brainstorm while working on projects for clients such as McCormick Spices, PNC Bank, and Beech-Nut Baby Food.

“We’re big hanger-outers,” said partner Jay Quilty, who will commute from his home in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

The firm plans to make the lounge available to organizations for fundraisers and other gatherings.

Sawtooth had long outgrown the two offices it rented in a Woodbridge office park, and chafed at the sterile environment, said Quilty. Moving to Manhattan wasn’t something the partners were interested in. Asbury Park got serious consideration, but was deemed too long a ride for employees who live north of Woodbridge.

Red Bank was considered an ideal location for many reasons, but finding the right address took some sorting, said Bridges and Quilty. The partners looked at the space above Urban Outfitters, at Broad Street and West Front, but had to rule it out for lack of parking. The Anderson Building near the train station got a once-over, but the stalled rebuild by owner Metrovation made it impossible to time a move, they said.

Corporate Plaza has its own parking deck.

Ultimately, though, the decision came down to a feeling.

“It’s hard to explain, but this whole sense of wanting to belong to a place is very important to us as a company,” said Quilty. “Volunteering, dining, shopping – we’re going to really encourage our people to get out and get involved.” Bridges said she can’t wait to start biking to work.

And yes, the firm is hiring and hoping to pick up new creative talent from the local market, he said.

Suzanne Macnow, the CBRE broker for the building, tells redbankgreen that only three spaces totaling 10,000 square feet of space in the 92,000 SF complex is untenanted, and that she’s close to a deal on one of them.