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Doug Clark: Young man’s drive behind West End Lofts project

It wasn’t so long ago that First and Jefferson was a major Spokane destination – if you wanted to buy crack.

Today, this once seamy downtown location has become a reassuring sign that our economy is on an upswing.

Ask Daniel Sanchez, who has doubled down on the biggest gamble of his 35-year-old life.

Sanchez is busy turning two three-story 1908 buildings, the Jefferson and its next-door neighbor, the Norman Hotel, into cool urban living spaces and boutique retail shops that will enhance the revitalization of West First Avenue.

West End Lofts, he’s calling the project.

Target date for completion: June 2016.

“I embrace the challenge,” Sanchez said. “I welcome it and I’m trying to do it right.”

His original plan, he added, was to buy just the Jefferson. But when the Norman also came up for sale, Sanchez took a deep breath and got the financial backing he needed to buy both buildings for $1.1 million.

Then the fun began.

Work crews have been gutting the vintage buildings, leaving the exposed brick and wood beams. The idea is to sell eight 3,000-square-foot shells that can be customized to suit an owner’s tastes and needs.

“Traditional loft living like you might find in Brooklyn,” explained Sanchez, who gave me the grand tour the other day.

For anyone else interested, West End Lofts has planned an open house walk-through at 5 p.m. Tuesday. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Standing in one of the sprawling units, admiring the bricks and “open area light wells,” I found it impossible not to daydream about what it might be like to live in a chic downtown loft.

Maybe that’s because I’m an “empty nester,” one of the prime categories of potential buyers that West End Lofts is looking for.

It does make sense. The kids leave. Aging parents find themselves stuck in a big house with a garage and all that messy yardwork.

Moving downtown to a simpler, more convenient way of living could be the answer.

Who else is West End Lofts looking for?

The young and successful like, well, Sanchez. He plans to occupy one of the prime spots and use it to show what loft life can be like.

I became a Daniel Sanchez fan two years ago although the circumstances were admittedly quirky.

We met inside Mootsy’s, the landmark bar with the yellow front door at 406 W. Sprague Ave.

Sanchez bought Mootsy’s in 2006. He received an unexpected award for being 57th-best in the nation when it came to selling that old-time beer of the working stiff – Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Since then, Sanchez said Mootsy’s has climbed amazingly into the 19th-best Pabst peddler.

But selling hipster beer isn’t what impressed me about Sanchez.

It was the young man’s work ethic and determination to succeed.

The son of a coal miner, Sanchez said he learned about hard work at age 7, “carrying bricks and mixing mud” for his dad.

While attending college at Western Washington University, Sanchez started his own pressure-washing business. “Gas stations, you name it. I’d clean anything.”

After college Sanchez moved to Indiana, where he opened a Pita Pit, learning, as he went, the fundamentals of being his own boss.

Eventually migrating to Spokane, he fulfilled his goal to own a bar by buying one of the city’s favorites: Mootsy’s.

If running a tavern wasn’t enough, Sanchez invested in four rental properties.

“I can’t define momentum for you,” he told me at the time. “But you know it when you have it and you know when it’s gone.”

Sanchez has definitely got the Big Mo now, plus the dirt under his fingernails.

He’s not content to stand back and simply watch the work being done. Day after day and into the night you can find him inside the West End Lofts site, cleaning and hauling and doing whatever it takes to make this project happen.

“This is my first time in real estate development,” he said. “But I have an insatiable appetite for construction.”

Melissa Murphy, a Spokane broker and owner of Prime Real Estate Group, is handling the marketing side of West End Lofts.

“I love unique properties like this,” she said, adding that the two buildings are “ideally positioned” between Browne’s Addition and the downtown business core.

The timing, she said, is right, too.

The downtown condo craze was booming until the 2008 recession put the economy into the dumper. But that was then. Today’s real estate sales, Murphy said, have almost returned to the normal market it was back in 2005.

Daniel Sanchez is banking on it.

“I want to bring that big city feel to Spokane,” he said. “We want it to be like nothing here. The community deserves this.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.