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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Public Radio buys former firehouse for offices, studios

Will move in by June 2015

Cary Boyce is the general manager of Spokane Public Radio, KPBX-FM, which plans to move into this building at Monroe and Sharp by June 30, 2015. (Dan Pelle)
Cary Boyce is the general manager of Spokane Public Radio, KPBX-FM, which plans to move into this building at Monroe and Sharp by June 30, 2015. (Dan Pelle)

Spokane Public Radio has purchased a historic city firehouse on North Monroe Street for its next offices and studios, dropping earlier plans to buy a building and property in downtown Spokane.

In 2007, the nonprofit station, which operates KPBX-FM, launched a $10 million campaign to acquire a historic building at 19 W. Pacific Ave. That goal included plans to buy an adjoining lot and build a 7,500-square-foot studio.

When the campaign fell victim to a stagnant economy, the station’s board of directors canceled that deal and began looking for new options last year.

Buying the former firehouse at 1229 N. Monroe St. is part of the station’s resized $5 million capital campaign. While it has obtained roughly $1.5 million in federal and state dollars, the station will rely on contributions from area sponsors and supporters to hit its goal.

Last fall the station, Spokane’s National Public Radio affiliate, put together a deal to acquire the former fire station. Known as Fire Station No. 3, the two-story brick building was purchased by a local benefactor for $575,000. The radio station is paying off the mortgage through a long-term, zero-interest loan, said Cary Boyce, general manager and president of the station.

Buying and renovating the former firehouse reduces the fundraising target to $5 million.

Boyce said the plan was to announce the new goal and new building plans in May. By then he hoped the campaign would have reached the $4 million mark.

To date it’s raised around $3.5 million, he said.

“In a campaign like this, timing is everything,” he said. “You try to have 80 percent (of the goal) committed before you go public.” Supporters of the station have been told about the change already, he said.

The station has been in its current building at 2319 N. Monroe St. for more than 30 years. The station plans to expand staff and programs over the next decade and sees the new building as ideal, Boyce said.

Boyce joined the station as general manager in 2012, replacing Dick Kunkel. Boyce credits Kunkel with developing a “visionary” plan for the station’s growth. The trouble, however, was the economic collapse that occurred in 2008, right after the first campaign started.

The first proposed site on West Pacific Avenue near Division Street, the Green-Hughes Building, originally was listed at roughly $782,000 when the campaign started. In 2007 the station’s board approved a purchase option for the building.

Early last year realizing the economy was sliding into recession and the campaign would suffer, they asked building owner Bob Hamacher to reduce the sale price.

Hamacher chose not to, and the station started looking for a less expensive option, Boyce said.

He said the change in the economy, along with advances in station technology, allow the expansion to accomplish the same goals as the first plan.

Guy Byrd, of Cornerstone Property Advisors, played a key role in finding Fire Station No. 3, which was built in two phases: the back half of the building in 1912 and the station itself in 1917. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Two current tenants in the firehouse will leave the building in the next several months. They are Steven Noll, the former building owner, and Market Vision Inc., an ad agency.

The renovation will include a new broadcast studio, upgraded equipment, more efficient offices and a 900-square-foot performance center with seating for at least 40 people. “This project will double our living space and triple our production capacity,” Boyce said.

To help reach the target the Legislature approved a $1 million capital appropriation last year. The station also got a $500,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Conditions for those grants require the station to move into the building by June 30, 2015.

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