Homegrown Charles IT has granted a special exception for office space in downtown Middletown

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MIDDLETOWN — A growing local computer company, founded in December 2006 by Foster Charles when he was a senior at Middletown High School, has won special exception approval to occupy the first floor of the former Rite Aid building in 10A Main St.

Charles, CEO and Founder of Charles IT, requested a special exception of the Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission earlier this month to move its headquarters from 150 William St. a tenth of a mile away to the building where the national drugstore chain and, before that, The Middletown Press were located.

Charles requested a special zoning exception ranging from retail use to professional office space. He plans to sublet the building, vacant since spring 2019, to Rite Aid.

The company is very customer-centric in its services, as per its mission. Charles IT’s slogan is “We make IT for humans, by humans”. The website has a button on its landing page that says “Talk to a REAL person”.

The company also has an office in Stamford.

Charles, who was born and raised in Middletown, began his career as a young entrepreneur, he told zoning commissioners. He started his business in 2006 – while still a senior at Middletown High School – on Main Street above Pedal Power. He then moved to an office near Restaurant Luce.

It was a “struggle” to stay on the city’s main thoroughfare, due to cost, Charles admitted.

He invested in the William Street building, renovating it for his purposes, Charles said. Over the past five years, her holding has increased by 30% year over year.

He intends to take up 75% of the 10,000 square foot ground floor – and has high hopes for the future. “In five, six, seven years, I can definitely see us moving upstairs as well.”

Buildings with “frontage” on Main Street must devote 50% of it to primarily commercial use, according to the city’s zoning code, hence the exception.

Charles says he looks for a certain demographic in his workers — professionals with growing families. “I want my organization and my office space to be in something premier and that people are proud to work for,” he said.

Commissioner Catherine Johnson asked what would be done with the film noir now on the windows of the establishment.

“I want something more exciting to watch, and right now everything is blacked out,” Charles said. “I personally don’t like this look.”

The structure is opposite the South Green and the kitty-corner at the Northern Middlesex YMCA, Charles said, so he plans to make the view “a bit more exciting” to complete the area.

Johnson pointed out that there was more space available on the second floor behind the building if he were to expand the business.

“That’s definitely the plan,” Charles said. “Every time I move into a new space”, I think, “I will never fill so much space”, however, after being in its current location for less than five years, it has already expanded to top floor, and converts conference rooms into offices.

“It’s getting a little cramped in there,” he said.

The Commission’s alternate, Joan Liska, asked about parking, to which Charles replied that he planned to sublet 50 spaces to Rite Aid. He also rents locations at Congregation Adath Israel on Broad Street, and to the city, which he says could house up to 90 employees.

Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce chairman Larry McHugh said he fully supports the plan. He said Charles IT is a “thriving” business that has seen 62% growth in Middletown over the past two years.

“This is a very important project for us because young people want to stay and grow their business in Middletown,” McHugh told the commissioners. “He’s had the opportunity to move, but he loves Middletown,” the chamber speaker said, calling Charles a “strong, committed person.”

There are very few retail stores on the south end of Main Street, McHugh said.

“It’s a win-win situation for the city of Middletown — a young, rapidly growing company that wants to stay here, grow here, and then become more and more of a community leader,” he added.

Chairman Thomas Pattavina said he supported the proposal because “Charles’ commitment to Middletown is honourable”.

Commissioner Sebastian Giuliano, however, disputed the proposal, saying that in the 1990s Main Street was “at its nadir” in terms of uses. Middletown did not take the bait and did not allow the first-floor retail space to be converted into office space, he said.

“We were right to have done that,” he said. “The expansion of business on Main Street was born because we made this decision.”

The building, Giuliano said, was designed “from the ground up” to be a retail space and features a drive-thru window. And, the second floor is already dedicated to offices, the commissioner said. “The press was not retail,” he stressed.

“As much as I can stress with all the reasons I’ve heard for doing this, I also have to say that the exceptions tend to become the rules. The more exceptions there are granted, the harder it will be not to grant an exception,” Giuliano explained.

“Right now,” he said, “I don’t want to go that route, so I won’t support that.”

Richard Pelletier disagreed with Giuliano, saying the building was “very fit for purpose” with the YMCA and South Green nearby.

“I honestly believe this is a great opportunity to use space that has been vacant for some time and could have been used if a retailer was interested,” he said.

The commission voted to approve the 6-1 rezoning application.

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