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Commercial Building Booms Retail Store Developers Seek To Catch Up With Growth In Housing

Toss out those perceptions of a building slump.

Coeur d’Alene’s commercial construction is hopping. It is more than eclipsing the building slowdown caused by a cooler housing market.

By the end of August, commercial contractors had logged $18.8 million in building permits. That’s 60 percent more in the commercial division than at the same time in the last fiscal year. The fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

And because Coeur d’Alene sold commercial permits worth a total of $15.1 million in fiscal year 1994, it’s clear 1995 will outstrip last year’s numbers by a fair margin.

Residential construction is dropping. But because commercial real estate is percolating, building inspectors are more beleaguered than ever.

“Last year was a record-setter, and there was no way we could keep up,” said Mike Johnson, Coeur d’Alene’s chief building inspector. “We’ve issued a darn lot more commercial permits. They are bigger-ticket items and a lot more work for us.”

The Building Department can check a set of house plans against Uniform Building Code requirements in only 45 minutes. The same check for a commercial building can take weeks, Johnson said, not to mention far more inspections of the actual building being required.

The rise in commercial construction is no surprise to Chris Gibbs, partner in Acuff Northwest Inc. Commercial growth tends to follow residential growth by a year or two, he said.

“The influx of people creates pent-up demand,” Gibbs said. “You need the people to pull the commercial growth.”

In addition, Coeur d’Alene is gaining a national reputation, he said. That draws national franchises, like TCBY Yogurt, Applebee’s Restaurant and the like. It also prompts other fast-food franchises to build additional stores.

The construction of new office space is slowing. There will be about 50,000 square-feet built this year, half of last year’s total, Gibbs said.

Most of the new commercial construction is for retail space, he said. He believes it will continue “for the foreseeable future.”

Post Falls is seeing a similar boom in commercial growth, he said.

As for residential, “people are a little bit alarmed about the slow down,” Gibbs said. But it’s more due to over-building - not because there’s less interest, he said.

“We’re still (selling) 1991 or 1992 numbers.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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