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Archive for May 2013

South Hill nursing home being converted to affordable housing units

Community Frameworks Inc., a nonprofit housing development agency, is converting a the former nursing home at 424 W. Seventh Ave. into 29 apartments primarily for modest-income residents.

The building, originally known as the Garden Terrace Manor, was built in the 1950s. It’s been vacant for several years. (Photo above from Google Maps.)

Community Frameworks, with offices in Spokane and Bremerton, will use roughly $3 million for the project which will convert the 26,000 square foot building, said Max Benson, senior housing developer for the agency. The money comes from a construction loan and grants from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development department, Washington state and the City of Spokane, said the agency’s Max Benson.

The result will be 21 one-bedroom and eight two-bedroom units. It’s expected to be completed this year, and open for residents by winter 2013, Benson said. Spokane Housing Ventures will manage the building once finished.

Community Frameworks purchased the abandoned building earlier this year for roughly $1.4 million.

Clark General Contractors, of Spokane, is the general contractor on the project. Cortner Architectural Company, of Spokane, designed the building’s interior. Don Neraas was the original architect for the building, Benson said.

Key Tronic EMS buys Mexican sheet metal fab shop, adds 90 Juarez workers

Contract manufacturer Key Tronic Corp. is buying Mexican sheet metal firm Sabre Manufacturing for $5.1.million.

Spokane Valley-based Key Tronic started out decades ago as a maker of keyboards. Over the last 15 years it transformed into a contract manufacturer, with production facilities in Spokane, China and Mexico.

Adding sheet metal fabrication will give the company new leads on contracts, said Key Tronic Chief Financial Officer Ron Klawitter. Key Tronic considered building its own sheet metal site near its factory in Juarez, Mexico, factory. “We learned that a company not far away from us was for sale,” Klawitter said. “We were in the right place at the right time,” he said.

The purchase includes Sabre’s customer list and a 66,000-square-foot production site. Privately owned Sabre
reported revenue of $7.million in 2012 and has about 90 employees.

Klawitter said Key Tronic has no plans to reduce the number of workers at Sabre. “We don’t really have sheet metal expertise, so there’s no plan to make any changes,” Klawitter said.

The acquisition will be funded by available cash and bank credit line.The transaction is anticipated to close in July, Klawitter noted.

“We paid off all our debt and had $4 million in available cash last quarter,” he said.

Examples of products that include sheet metal are transaction printers, some slot machines, power supplies and power protection equipment used in data centers, Klawitter said.

BBB, state officials warn people to not get scammed by ‘relief’ fraudsters

People are generally kind, and gullible.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the Better Business Bureau are telling state residents to be wary of potential fraudulent efforts to collect “disaster relief” for the victims of the killer tornado that hit Moore, Okla. this month.

“I join the Better Business Bureau and Secretary of State in expressing sympathy to the families who’ve lost loved ones or their homes in this disaster,” said Ferguson in a press release.

“I know many share my concerns and want to provide assistance right away—but it is important to exercise caution and make sure your money helps those who truly need it.”

BBB, the AG and the Secretary of State's office has this list of guidelines to follow:

  • Be suspicious of solicitors requesting immediate donations. Don’t rush decisions and consider contributing at give.org, a website run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
  • Make sure that charities are qualified to provide the type of disaster relief that is necessary.
  • Avoid cash donations. Write a check directly to the charity, not the fundraiser.
  • Never give out credit card numbers over the phone.
  • Be wary of “new” charities with unverifiable background information.
  • Watch out for solicitations from fake “victim” or memorial social media accounts.

Beacon, Spokane’s greenest cleaner, gets national award

Spokane’s clean air agency has told Spokane’s Beacon Cleaners to take a hike. And that’s a good thing.

The laundry is the first dry cleaner in Spokane to earn “no-longer-regulated” status from the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.

In recent years, Beacon has installed cleaning equipment that produces no vented emissions and uses nontoxic chemicals instead of perchloroethylene or “perc,” a closely regulated agent regarded as a carcinogen.

Because perc is still used in many dry-cleaning businesses, the clean air agency requires annual inspections to help them find ways to reduce emissions and control discharges.

Since 2010, the list of regulated Spokane dry cleaners has dropped from 15 to seven.

Of the eight no longer on the list, Beacon Cleaners is the only one that’s still in business; the other seven closed or were absorbed by other dry cleaners, said April Westby, an air quality engineer at the clean air agency.

Beacon’s ongoing efforts also earned it the 2013 Small Business Environmental Stewardship Award, given to one company that displays a commitment to environmentally friendly practices.

That award will be presented to Hi Bum Kim, Beacon’s owner, at the June 6 clean air agency board meeting.

In 2012 it won a local award for its environmental efforts.

In the late 1990s, Spokane County had more than 40 dry cleaners. By 2010, the number fell to 15, primarily due to consumer shopping trends and a weak economy.

Economists say Americans are wearing fewer garments that require dry cleaning and also postpone dry cleaning their clothes in a down economy.

If STEP moves forward, let’s hope the tribe chooses a stunning design

We can't go two days without another mention of the proposed STEP project, which would begin with a proposed Spokane Tribe casino and resort. It would be built on 45 acres inside the City of Airway Heights.

The controversy over whether this is needed or a bad idea has only gotten more heated over time. At this point, the two sides are awaiting the next key decision, a ruling by the Department of the Interior on whether the Spokanes get the green light. If Interior says yes, then would come a decision by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Still, though it's premature we wonder what would a new casino-resort eventually look like?

We know from documents already filed that the tribe has signed a tentative deal to work with Warner Gaming, a large company that helps tribes set up gaming operations.

Warner has posted the Spokane Tribe's provided architectural rendering that shows a generic design. OK, it's actually not bad but not that great visually. (Top Photo)

We hope the Tribe, if it gets to the point of moving forward, will choose a design for a new casino that's both smart and visually unique. We found an example of unique casino design in the incredibly stylish Mohegan Sun resort and casino in Uncasville, Conn. (photo below)

This casino includes a 34-story tower that architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox styled after an arrowhead.

It's not cheap and this style of building has no place on the West Plains. But we think it's stunning visually and should help inspire efforts to find a suitable and special design for the STEP project, if it moves forward.

Photo of the Mohegan Sun courtesy of http://www.woodruff-brown.com/.

How would Sonnelands’ South Hill property look if it was fully developed?

Earlier on Wednesday we ran a map with an item on the proposed amendment request submitted on behalf of the family of John and Holly Sonneland. That earlier printed map is the existing land use for the 30 acres the Sonnelands own on Spokane's South Hill.

Here is another map from the city that shows the proposed, requested uses for the same property. The large purple block would be centers and corridors designated for mixed use. The darker yellow area to the left and below, bordered with purple lines, would remain residential, but it would change in nature.

As our other SR news story (ran on May 22) reported, the Sonnelands say they didn't submit the full 30-acre rezone request. They say a local developer, Steve Schmautz, went forward for a full rezone, rather than what the Sonnelands wanted, a smaller, less-than-eight-acre rezone of their property.

This map shows that if the full project moved forward, one request to the city would change the residential parcels, currently zoned single-family residential, to R15-30, allowing for up to 30 units per acre.

The original documents accompanying the request did note that the project, if developed, would not build apartments at that density, but closer to 10 units per acre. The Sonnelands, again saying that type of development is several years off, if at all, say they don't want a high-density residential development.

Craig Gates of Key Tronic EMS is Thursday’s Connect Northwest speaker

Craig Gates, the CEO of Spokane Valley-based Key Tronic EMS, is the featured speaker for Thursday's Connect Northwest Executive Breakfast.

Doors open at 7:30 a.m. at the Spokane Club Georgian Room.

Founded in 1969 as an independent keyboard manufacturer, Key Tronic was the No. 1 keyboard producer in the world by 1978 and went public in 1983. 

The company purchased the Mexico manufacturing of Honeywell Keyboards Division in 1993, and five years later, as keyboard revenues began to wane, expanded into electronic manufacturing services.  It remains one of the Spokane area's publicly traded companies.

Craig Gates joined Key Tronic in 1994 and became president and CEO in April 2009.

Registration is $30 and includes breakfast.

To sign up, go here.

Want more answers on the Sonneland property rezone request? Here’s a link

This is one of those tales that never quite answers all the questions it raises. The Sonneland family, a fixture for decades on Spokane's South Hill, has more than 30 acres that will eventually go through some development. The first part of the plan is the existing Quail Run commercial cluster on 29th Avenue near Southeast Boulevard.

Today's story summarizes the confusion and attempted fix after a developer submitted a request to amend the Spokane Comprehensive Plan and allow mixed-use development on many of the still-undeveloped acres the Sonnelands have.

The property iincludes the last significant green belt of natural land sitting atop Spokane's South Hill.

The upshot: while the city is still reviewing the request for rezoning all 30 acres, the family now says they're not ready to move forward with that size of project. Instead, with the help of a local developer, they're more focused on making a zone change happeon on the northeasternmost 6 acres or so of the property.

To grab more information about the project, on the city's planning department site, go here. Scroll down to the specific link for the Sonneland project.

Mark Camp, one of Spokane’s busier guys, buys Overbluff Cellars winery

 

Spokane businessman Mark Camp and two partners have purchased Overbluff Cellars, a South Hill craft winery.

Camp is buying the winery with Darby and Jovanka McKee, both of Spokane, who have been partners on other ventures with him.

He and the McKees own the Title Nine-Casper Fry building and The Shop building in the South Perry District. Camp also owns the buildings occupied by Jones Radiator, a downtown pub, and Cannon Coffee & Cone in Browne’s Addition.

Camp also operates Spokane-based Anvil Coffee Roasting, started in 2001. The roasting equipment for Anvil will be moved into the second floor of the winery building, at 620 S. Washington St.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed. The purchase closed last week.

Camp said he plans to approach winemaking with some of the same goals and attitudes he’s used developing blends of coffee. In 2001, he launched Anvil Coffee Roasting, in The Shop building.

Lynnelle and John Caudill, of Spokane, started the winery in 2006. They buy grapes from the Walla Walla region and have primarily turned out red wines including cabernet sauvignons and syrahs.

Camp said he'll retain Overbluff Cellars' winemaker Jerry Gibson to guide him through the first few seasons. 

Huffington Post hosts a discussion on the impact of casinos on city economies

Continuing the thread on the possible approval by the BIA of the Spokane Tribe's proposed casino in Airway Heights, here's a little online discussion covering the debate over how gambling helps or hurts city economies.

It's on Huffington Post.  It's not long, it's a bit scattershot, and it totally avoids the local issues involved in this community, the tribal history of gambling and the need for economic diversity among tribal governments.

The BIA hasn't said when it will make the formal “record of decision” on the request. If approved by the Interior Department, the request then needs the approval of Gov. Jay Inslee.

Valley shoppers alert: Value Village relocating to new, larger space

Savers Inc., based in Bellevue, will move the current Value Village in Spokane Valley later this year into the building that once housed the Old Country Buffet.

Currently at 13112 E. Sprague Ave., the discount and vintage-item retail store will reopen after remodeling is completed at 12205 E. Sprague Ave., at the corner of Pines Road.

A company spokesman said the opening will be “between Aug. 1 and the end of September.”

In January 2012 the Valley Old Country Gourmet estaurant closed its doors following a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Value Village Inc. is a subsidiary of privately held Savers Inc. The company operates more than 220 Value Village locations in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

States with the largest number of unemployed? Here are the top six

Washington State will release Spokane County jobless numbers for April tomorrow, May 21.

To help us get in the mood, let's look at some national statistics and compare who's got the most and the least.

Washington, in the March numbers was the state with the 13th-most number of people listed as unemployed.

The number back in March was 254,024, according to the State Unemployment database at a site called Department of Numbers.com.

The six states with the largest numbers unemployed in order were:  California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

The states with three lowest totals of workers out a job were North Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming.

In terms of jobless percentage, the worst five are: Nevada, Illinois. Mississippi, California, North Carolina.

For lowest rate, the five are: North Dakota, Nebraska, Vermont, South Dakota, Iowa.

Uber-geographer and author Joel Kotkin featured speaker Friday at the Davenport

Get up early Friday morning and go to Spokane's Davenport Hotel if you care to listen to an economic overview from a guy known as America's “uber-geographer.”

The speaker is Joel Kotkin, author of a number of books and the guy behind www.newgeography.com and a well-known analyst of how different regions will grow or not grow over the next four decades.

He's the featured guy at EWU's College of Business and Public Administration-sponsored Pacific Northwest Regional Economic Conference.  Check out the schedule at prrec.org.

This is one of those big deal meetings for regional economists, bringing together some serious scholars and trend trackers hashing out what's happening and what's not happening

Kotkin’s lecture is “How Regions Grow: Looking Ahead to 2050.”  It runs during Friday's plenary session, from 7 to 9 a.m. at the Davenport Hotel Isabella Room.

The public is invited, with the caveat that tickets are $25 per person. Kotkin will start speaking at 7:30 a.m.

The ticket includes a continental breakfast.

A press release states that Kotkin views the Northwest as generally well favored for future growth.

Jobless rate in Washington drops to 7 percent, down slightly from month before

The state AP office provided Wednesday's update on April's Washington state jobless rates.

Washington state’s unemployment rate dropped to 7 percent in April, and the state added an estimated 3,800 jobs last month, according to data from the state Employment Security Department.

The March jobless rate for the state was 7.3 percent.

The state has now regained about 78 percent of the more than 200,000 jobs lost during the recession, according to ESD numbers.

The state “labor market is continuing to improve at a moderate but accelerating rate, somewhat faster than the nation,” Scott Bailey, a labor economist for Employment Security, said in a written statement.

The national unemployment rate for April was 7.5 percent.

Spokane County and other individual county unemployment rates will be reported next week.

Since April 2012, when Washington state’s unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, the state has gained a total of 67,200 jobs.

The latest figures show that economists significantly revised job loss numbers for March from an initial estimate of 5,500 down to 1,600 jobs.

Industries that saw the greatest job gains in April included retail trade, up 3,800 jobs; leisure and hospitality, up 1,600 jobs; and professional and business services, which gained 1,500 jobs.

Job losses were seen in education and health services, which lost 2,500 jobs; construction, down 1,100; and transportation, warehousing and utilities, which lost 500 jobs. Wholesale trade saw a decrease of 300 jobs.

Catacombs closes, as Montvale keeps going, looking to become profitable

A bankruptcy court trustee has chosen a Spokane management firm to run the Montvale Hotel, the downtown Spokane boutique hotel saddled with more than $3 million in debts.

Rob Brewster, the owner of the Montvale at 1005 W. First Ave., filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in February.

Trustee David Gardner, an attorney with Spokane firm Winston & Cashatt, said he chose Hotel Market Solutions to manage the 36-room hotel and find a way to make it profitable again.

Hotel Market Solutions, with offices in the Paulsen Building, manages a number of regional hotels, including the former Howard Johnson at 211 S. Division, and a hotel in Post Falls.

Brewster, who is reeling from several downtown property foreclosures, bought the Montvale in 1998 and converted it into a stylish downtown hotel that honored its early 20th-century character.

Gardner said the Montvale bankruptcy’s secured debts come to roughly $3 million. Unsecured debts include nearly $140,000 the state says Brewster owes in back taxes.

Gardner said he chose HMS to manage the Montvale, at 1005 W. First, in large part because of the reputation of Fred Schoener, director of operations for HMS.

 “Fred has managed a number of local hotels and he understands the local market,” Gardner said.

HMS took over the Montvale in late April and is running the hotel with a full staff.

Gardner also said he’s not certain whether the hotel should be sold or if HMS should continuing running it.

If it remains unsold, he said the goal is to create a payment plan that directs the profits to its various creditors, said Gardner.

He also recently shut down the Catacombs Inn, the restaurant in the hotel’s lower level.

“I could not verify that there were any licenses (for the Catacombs) on record,” he said. As part of the reorganization, Gardner said he’ll consider reasonable offers from anyone wishing to buy the restaurant.

All other businesses in the hotel, including the eatery Scout, continue to operate normally.

Red Lion will light up the sky downtown, celebrating ‘magic of service’

Red Lion Hotel will host free fireworks tonight, Tuesday, starting around 9 p.m. in downtown's Riverfront Park.

Red Lion spokeswoman Pam Scott said the five-minute fireworks display kicks off the Red Lion Hotels' Magic of Service Brand conference.

“Red Lion Hotels is proud to bring business and energy to our hometown of Spokane, and we’re putting some of that energy into the sky to prove it,” said Harry G. Sladich, Red Lion's VP for sales, marketing and distribution, in a release.

The conference invited more than 125 franchise owners and general managers from our hotels across the country. That conference will take place at the Red Lion Hotel at the Park, 303 W North River Dr., from Tuesday through Thursday.

GSI, Congressional delegation, NW Mining Association credited for 12 jobs

Score one for Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. The two Congressional fixtures for Washington state were key in rolling back some of the job erosion seen recently at Spokane's Mine Research Laboratory.

A story in Tuesday's SR summarized how that happened, noting that 12 jobs will be coming back to the lab, which is part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Another part of the solution, not mentioned in that story, is the role played by Greater Spokane Incorporated.

As an aide to Sen. Murray noted to us in an email, Rich Hadley and GSI were the point group that followed up after learning that NIOSH was losing jobs, starting about three years ago. The Northwest Mining Association contacted GSI and then GSI, formerly the Spokane chamber of commerce, began visiting Murray, McMorris Rodgers and other legislators, sounding the alarm.

It worked. While the lab has lost more than 50 jobs in the past nine years, getting 12 new ones will help soften that blow.

WSU online business program ranked No. 1 for best program for veterans

Washington State University College of Business’ online graduate business programs were ranked No. 1 for Best Online Graduate Business Programs for Veterans.

“To ensure academic quality, all schools included in the ranking first had to be numerically ranked in U.S. News & World Report's 2013 Best Online Education Programs. Earlier this year, the college’s online MBA program received the highest national ranking,” a WSU release said.

The executive MBA program was included in that evaluation.

The Best Online Programs for Veterans rankings look at impacts of the program on veterans in the areas of of affordability, accessibility and reputation.

Spokane home sales stuck in $150,000 plateau, according to RealtyTrac

The latest April summary from the Spokane Association of Realtors paints a rosy picture for April home sales.

It noted, among other things, a steady increase in homes sold, new homes being sold, and the median price of homes sold.

But not everyone sees the glass half-full. The chart above, from national firm RealtyTrac, shows some price softening in Spokane County during the first two months of 2013. Rob Higgins, of the Spokane Realtors group, said numbers for March and April are better than for the first two months of the year.

Reasons why the two sets of numbers vary. The RealtyTrac set may include sales of mobile homes or may exclude condos (which are included in the assocation totals.)

For April, the median home sale price in Spokane in April was $160,149, according to the local real estate association. In March that number was $157,950.

Higgins' group numbers for January and February don't agree with the RealtyTrac numbers for median prices, showing median sales higher than $150,000.

Spokane’s Numerica Credit Union launches new brand, introduces new logo

Spokane Valley-based Numerica Credit Union has unleashed a new logo and a new “brand.”

That new brand – “Life moves. Live well” -- is meant to focus on the credit union's commitment to helping foster “well being in the lives of Numerica's members,” a press release said.

The new logo is described as representing “well-being and notions of wholeness, growth and community.” Photo here shows the new logo on top. The older logo is below.

The story behind the Keyboard Cat video meme

Spokane artist Charlie Schmidt has joined a copyright infringement lawsuit against Warner Bros. and the media company that designed the popular game Scribblenauts.

Today's SR story on the suit is here.

For those who wonder how the 1985 video of Keyboard Cat became an Internet “meme,” we tracked down this video that offers a (somewhat) long discursive interview with Brad O'Farrell, the guy who mashed Charlie's video with the “Play Him Off” idea.

The interview also features former Spokane resident Ben Lashes, who serves as Charlie's online agent and representative.

Lululemon will relocate to former Cues building in downtown Spokane

Sports fashionistas, this one's for you.

Vancouver, B.C.-based Lululemon Athletica will move to a larger downtown Spokane location later this year. The athletic-attire retailer currently has a “showroom” location at 117 N. Howard St.

Its plan is to relocate to 707 W. Main Ave., in the space used recently by women’s apparel retailer Cues. Cues managers closed their downtown store on Saturday. Cues owner Trisha Thoen said she’s searching for a new location and plans to relocate by the fall.

Here’s the debated ‘spaghetti-flight’ photo that tribe’s consultant says is misleading

One SR story with a major business component is today's piece on a private study looking at the question of encroachment on Fairchild Air Force Base by a proposed Spokane Tribe casino.

The casino still faces two rounds of government review.

But the study, paid for by the tribe, not suprisingly found no conflict or negative impact on the base. It also averred that the tribe is totally committed to working with the Air Force in resolving any flight path issues.

Flight paths have become one of the issues raised by critics of the proposed casino. They have used a widely seen image, showing a week's worth of flight paths in and out of Fairchild, showing that the proposed casino is directly below. The implication is clear: this is a very bad spot for a new casino.

However Paul Hirsch, president of consulting group Madison Government Affairs, in Washington, D.C., looked at that aerial image and map, and concluded it misrepresents the threat. 

Read the story at spokesman.com to get the gist of Hirsch's concerns, included in the study.

At the bottom of this story is a link to the PDF copy of the study called the STEP Assessment Report. (STEP stands for Spokane Tribe Economic Project.)

Do you know your Itronix end-of-life trivia? If so, grab a free coffee card

There won't be many more chances to write about Itronix, the tech product line that recently died a quiet death as a small business segment within the belly of defense contractor General Dynamics Corp.

See today's story for the account of how the once-proud Spokane-launched product line went into the dark.

The graphic here is compliments of Syed Khusro, who worked as VP of engineering at Itronix up through last November, including the change of location from Spokane Valley to Sunrise, Fla.

On this occasion, we'll offer up two $5 coffee cards to people who can answer the following two trivia questions correctly. Post answers here, don't send emails because we won't see them anyway.

Question 1:   Name three of the companies that at one time owned Itronix. We're talking about starting in 1994 and going forward until 2013.

Question 2:   Which of the following companies made a very serious effort at buying Itronix but never did (choose just one)?  Asus, Dell, Gryphon, Avista, Motorola, Siemens, Fujitsu.

You need to answer both correctly to win. Extra entries not allowed. Current or past employees of Cowles Co. are not eligible.

The two earliest correct entries get the coffee cards.

Spokane Marcom announces this year’s best of show for marketing, advertising

Eastern Washington University’s “Admissions Brochure,” Shriners Hospitals for Children’s “Face Off Advertising Campaign,” and RESCUE! Pest Control Products’ “StinkBugSmackdown.com” were the big winners at the 18th Annual Spark Awards, presented last week at the Lincoln Center.

The awards are presented to area agencies and organizations by the Spokane Regional Marketing and Communications Association (Spokane MarCom).

More than 70 entries covering publications, feature stories, web design and media relations campaigns were submitted.

Top entries that received the Brightest Spark awards were:

  •  “EWU Admissions Brochure” – EWU Marketing & Communications
  •  “Face Off Advertising Campaign” – Shriners Hospitals for Children
  •  “StinkBugSmackdown.com” – RESCUE! Pest Control Products

A full list of all winners presented by Spokane Marcom is at this link.

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John Stucke John Stucke is a deputy city editor who helps build local news coverage and writes about health care, bankruptcy and rural affairs.

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