Student-run business project opens in Center

Photo by Patrick Shea The Blue Loft at 371 Worth St. in the heart of Center opened Feb. 28 to introduce Center students to the world of business.

CENTER — In late 2019, Katrina Ruggles began the search for grant money to fund capstone projects at Center High School so students could learn how to start and run a business.

Three years later on Feb. 28, students held the grand opening of the Blue Loft at 371 Worth St., a space for playing games, having meetings, and relaxing.

“I think we called it the business club when we started back then,” Ruggles recalled. “We shared ideas and decided to start a youth-run business that students would run as a coop.”

Ruggles said they created a 501c3, but making money is secondary to the primary goal of giving students business experience.

A year after securing the first grants, Ruggles worked with Lawrence Trujillo at the Viking Youth Club to advance the program. In the meantime, the building owner at 371 Worth St. arranged for the program to rent the space. After gaining access in January 2022, students scrubbed the floors, renovated, and painted the walls. They also learned the process for submitting bids to do the work.

Mikela Tarlow from ActionLab 360 has helped guide capstone students, and Trujillo has also supported Ruggles and others opening the Blue Loft. Now that the doors are open, Ruggles recently hired Walter Martinez to run the program.

In the future, Ruggles anticipates using the space for scheduled events before settling on fixed hours. For example, students could host a gaming tournament. They have discussed a painting event for adults in the future, although initial events will cater to Viking students. The entrance fee will be factored into the business equation. While entrepreneurs need to make money, many of their fellow students have limited finances. They will need to find the right price point.

Opening the Blue Loft shows another benefit of coordination between town officials, local business owners, and the school district.

When a couple bought four buildings in Center, Town Manager Brian Lujan explained, they wanted to avoid having one of them stand vacant.

“They reached out and said they wanted to be a part of this,” Lujan said. “How can we help out? We started looking at a youth-run business.”

With the Blue Loft up and running, “They can learn business skills and run a business. You gotta crawl before you walk,” he added.

As Center progresses toward Urban Renewal Authority organization, the potential tax revenue from Tax Incremented Financing will subdivide into levies collected for special districts. The Center Consolidated School District, for example, can claim a fixed percentage over 20 years or specify different percentages over the years to accommodate growth. As URA board members, special district representatives participate in the decision-making process over decades, factoring expansion within the context of the town’s expansion onto the North 90.

Lujan said the town has received seven or eight letters of intent to join the Center Planning Commission as it takes shape. One board position will be reserved for youth representation, which will include a group of rotating students and young adults to fill the seat at meetings.