Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Great Commercial Building Quest Continues!

Over the weekend, we once again looked at some commercial buildings in our "Quest" to find a location for our design and antiques business. Our realtor, Cathy Frank at Comey and Shepherd is definitely an "old house person", and understands what our needs are. She was instrumental in helping us find our Knox hill project and she has been a great help with our commercial building quest. She isn't "afraid" of old buildings like some realtors are. I've worked with a lot of realtors in many cities over the years and Cathy is one of the best!

Our building quest took us to the Brewery District. We have narrowed our site selection to the area around Findlay Market, Brewery district and the West End. Given the nature of our business we want to be in the middle of a neighborhood revitalization and feel those areas best represent both short and long range business opportunity.

The phrase "you cant just a book by it's cover" often comes to mind when looking for commercial Victorian buildings. Sometimes you have a great facade and a basket case interior , other times you have horribly remuddled facade and decent interior space.

Our first stop was a 4 story commercial building, This was one of those odd "angled front" buildings and sometimes, that is a great feature, other times it leads to an unworkable floor plan. The first building we looked at was the case. It was clearly overpriced for condition, but as we have learned, asking price is more of "wish" that a reality for many of these buildings.

The second building was strong "Maybe?" . The price wasn't bad for the square footage and the interior still had a decent staircase that you could actually walk on. So many buildings have staircases that wouldn't even meet code and are unsafe for most people to use. Putting a staircase into an old building is often a major undertaking. Unfortunately the space was just a little too small for us. It would have been workable in the short run but we would quickly outgrown it.

Our third stop was laughable. The owner of the building met us met us to show it. Said it had some "minor" water issues but was getting a tenant for the second floor whom was moving in this week. I guess to convince us it was "cash cow". When she handed our realtor Cathy the key and waited outside, I had a "feeling". When we entered, water was raining down in the first floor retail space. This has been explained, in advance, as a broken pipe that was now 'fixed". My experience told me it was instead a major roof leak and I imagine a few feet of water in basement. Roof replacement isn't a dealbreaker so we proceeded to the second floor where we came across the overwhelming odor of gas. Apparently the last tenant (who maybe left because of the leaky roof?) had taken the stove and not properly closed the shut off. Had it not been for the fact that a gazillion windows were already broken out allowing the gas to escape it would have blown up and taken out the entire block. We quickly exited the building and advised the owner that she better get the gas shut off immediately if when wanted to have building left to sell.

Our final stop was building that our realtor had been told had had a lot of work done to it by the listing agent. It was nice ( on the outside). At first glance the front room wasn't bad. It had a nice tin ceiling and some wainscot. However as we moved further into the building the "possibilities" were fading fast. The rear of the structure had major structural foundation issues and would have to come down. The stairs leading to the upper floors (they yanked out the railing I assume to be modern) was so steep that without a total tear out and rework would never be rentable. The "lot of work" upstairs consisted of tearing out the original window trim slapping drywall over everything and replacing the original trim with #3 pine boards, you know the kind with knots you use a stringers for a ceiling? They finished the space over the back of the building that would have to come off as well.

The electrical was all outside "wall track runs" The plumbing work that had been done was PVC, and we instantly spotted the fact the drain runs were slanted in the WRONG direction, When I went to the top floor, they took out a major structural beam to gain attic space, I assume to create another rental unit and the roofline already showed a major bow. We came to the conclusion that some people shouldn't be allowed to go near an old building. If they had not done any of the "improvements", the building might have worked, but we would have to undo everything they did, and then spend thousands on getting the proper woodwork back into the building not to mention the major structure work required by their removal of a load bearing beam!
We all had a good laugh and just realized it was not our day! Maybe next time.

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