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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Making old spaces new

When HDG Architecture outgrew its rented quarters in downtown Spokane, business partners Josh Hissong and Armando Hurtado decided it was time to buy their own building.

“We think we got one of the last good deals downtown,” Hissong said.

The partners paid $235,000 for the old Carr’s Corner Bar building at 230 S. Washington St. last year. Before the purchase and renovation, “it was a scary corner to walk,” Hurtado said.

People frequently loitered outside the bar, which was known for its heavy metal concerts. The building’s few windows were covered with heavy drapes. Two billboards were anchored to the roof.

The partners sunk more than $600,000 into the 105-year-old brick building, which now provides the kind of eclectic, downtown work space they envisioned.

“To us, it’s worth it to have the grit of downtown,” Hissong said. “We could have bought a building on the South Hill or Spokane Valley. … But our co-workers are millennials in their 20s and 30s. They would rather work downtown.”

Young adults “aren’t going to move here from Seattle unless it’s cool,” Hurtado added.

Downtown has always had a large number of professional services firms, including architects and engineers, said Craig Soehren, a broker with Kiemle & Hagood Co.

Over the past several years, more of those companies have been buying buildings and renovating them for offices. Affordable real estate is one of the trend’s drivers.

“You still have the option of going out and finding a building you can afford,” Soehren said.

For some companies, the purchases also reflect the opportunity to create office space that reflects their corporate image.

After renting for nearly two decades, DCI Engineers Inc. bought a building in downtown Spokane in 2014. Since many of the firm’s clients are developers rehabilitating older buildings, a downtown location was the company’s first and only choice, said Craig Crowley, managing partner of the Spokane office.

DCI Engineers purchased the old Evergreen Parking and Storage building at 707 W. Second Ave.

“We were on the hunt for something unique,” Crowley said. “It’s not a building everyone could look at and think, ‘That would be a really great office.’

But then, “we’re structural and civil engineers,” he said.

DCI Engineers bought the 15,000-square-foot former parking garage for $537,000. Transforming the space into offices cost another $1.5 million.

“There was no infrastructure – no power, no water, no sewer, no phone,” Crowley said. “It was brand new everything.”

Though the interior is new, DCI kept the brick facade of the 1920s John Doran building, which was designed as a Packard and Studebaker dealership. Exposed masonry is part of the building’s interior.

“We’re very proud of the space. It turned out so cool,” Crowley said. “I hope it motivates others to do it. If you have some imagination, there are a lot of buildings that could be purchased for office space.”

HDG Architecture moved into its new quarters in April.

Covering up exterior of Carr’s Corner Bar gave the building a clean, modern look. The partners removed the billboards and painted a catchprahse on the outside wall: If not now when?

The firm’s 13 employees work in a large, open room with exposed beams and big windows. A mounted caribou head, purchased at a Coeur d’Alene antique shop, is the office mascot.

“I think it’s awesome. It’s not your traditional cubicles,” said Henry Ho, HDG’s project designer. “I usually boast to my friends that it’s kind of like a Google-plex.”

The office has a loft and plans for a small nap room. A parking lot behind the building will be turned into an outdoor green space for both work and relaxation.

Employees sometimes put in 12- to 14-hour days, so the partners wanted comfortable areas for the staff to recharge, Hurtado said.

“We’ve never had to tell employees to work harder,” he said. “We want them to go take a walk or take a nap and come back and finish cranking.”

Ho moved to Spokane from Houston in January. “Six months ago, I didn’t even know that Spokane existed,” the 26-year-old said.

During the interview process, Ho said he was drawn to HDG’s vibe, which he described as “unorthodox” and “down to earth.” It made him willing to take a risk on Spokane.

When Ho worked at a Houston architecture firm, he wore a dress shirt, slacks and leather shoes to work. HDG has a more casual dress code, and the open work space makes the office feel egalitarian.

“There’s a lot of young talent,” Ho said of the company. And, “Josh and Armando are good mentors,” he said.

The partners said they like the idea of investing in downtown’s future by giving a dilapidated structure a new life. Though with old buildings, there are always “layers of risk,” Hurtado said.

Some of the big ticket items in the renovation aren’t even visible. The new roof cost $50,000 and replacing the floor boards was a $15,000 expense.

HDG spent about $875,000 on its new office space, including the building’s purchase and the cost of remodeling.

“It still pencils out as a good return on investment,” Hurtado said.