When Larry Soehren was an Eastern Washington University student in the 1980s, he wouldn’t have imagined a career in real estate, let alone overseeing one of Spokane’s largest property management and commercial real estate firms.
But a random call to Ed Kiemle in 1982 jump-started Soehren’s career with Kiemle Hagood.
He was hired as a property manager for the firm’s commercial property management division in 1983, became director of commercial management in 1992, a partner in the company in 1996, and president and CEO of the company in 2013.
Soehren oversaw all operational functions and management services divisions of the company, which has five regional offices and completes about $150 million in transactions annually.
The company’s current management portfolio consists of more than 8 million square feet of office, retail, medical office, industrial and commercial property, and more than 1,200 apartment units – a majority of which serve low-income populations.
After close to 37 years with the company, Soehren retired Jan. 1. Gordon Hester assumed the role of president and CEO, while Soehren moved to an “of counsel” role at the company.
Soehren’s favorite aspect of working in the real estate industry is its connection to people and the economy.
“It enmeshes you in the whole economy and, really, the whole community. It’s never a dull moment,” he said, adding work in property management allows contact with several different companies and people. “We’re a people business at the end of the day. It’s bricks and mortar, but we are a people business. I really enjoy meeting all the people and getting to know what they do and how they do it.”
A surprise career
Soehren, a Spokane native, graduated from EWU with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management. Throughout high school and college, Soehren worked as a waiter in restaurants.
Then, he discovered real estate.
“I saw an ad in the paper from a guy looking for a real estate salesperson for a commercial company that’s no longer in business,” he said.
Soehren called the man, who told him the commission-based job didn’t pay much in the beginning and suggested Soehren talk to Ed Kiemle.
“He said, ‘If you really want to learn the business – real estate – go call Ed Kiemle and talk about property management,’” Soehren said.
Although Kiemle Hagood wasn’t hiring at the time because of a slow economy, Kiemle kept Soehren’s resume.
“I was off looking at other paths. I didn’t keep chasing real estate even at that point, and it was just a chance call back in 1983 that said ‘Come on in, we’d like to talk to you,’” Soehren said.
Soehren began working as a property manager, which he enjoyed because it involved several skills, from budgeting to finance and marketing.
The firm, which was led by Kiemle, Jerry Hagood and Tom Quigley at the time, promoted Soehren to director of commercial management and subsequently asked him to become a co-owner in 1996.
“From a company standpoint, being asked to be the leader of the commercial property management department was a big step and a gratifying step, and moving forward to be an owner – it was exciting to do that,” Soehren said. “Being an owner can keep you awake at night, and we’ve had our times when that’s happened, but even in the recession we did well.”
The Great Recession
The Great Recession was challenging for commercial real estate firms. Kiemle Hagood had to be creative to keep operating.
Soehren took on a role as a receiver, working with financial institutions that were foreclosing on properties. Receivers are generally responsible for managing the property until the foreclosure is complete.
“I served in that role for probably a dozen different receivership cases over a five-year period, which was not a business we were in before,” Soehren said.
Spokane’s real estate market was booming in the lead up to the Great Recession.
“We were riding a little high, but we didn’t get crazy, and then the recession came and we were able to pull through it,” Soehren said. “We made a few budgetary adjustments, but we never laid anybody off during the recession. We came out of it stronger. In fact, we hired a couple of property managers during that time. I think that’s a proud moment – to say we were able to pull that off.”
Soehren said seeing the renaissance of Spokane after community leaders put in effort to rebuild its economy post-recession is particularly rewarding.
“People are proud of (Spokane) and to see what’s going on in the community from obviously a fairly robust economy, to housing downtown, retail continuing downtown, Riverfront Park – all of that is just an amazing turn of events,” he said.
Downtown Spokane revitalization
Soehren has played an integral role in the development of downtown Spokane. He served on the board of directors for the Downtown Spokane Association, the Downtown Spokane Partnership and was the founding chair of the ratepayers advisory board for the Downtown Business Improvement District.
He’s also the chair of the Spokane Public Facilities District, a taxing authority that owns and operates the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, the First Interstate Center for the Arts and the Spokane Convention Center.
The public facilities district worked with the city, county and the Spokane Sports Commission to bring plans for the proposed Spokane Sportsplex to fruition.
The $53 million Sportsplex will be an indoor multisport facility designed to host national and local athletic events on a 5-acre site on the north bank of the Spokane River near downtown. It will have a 200-meter, six-lane indoor hydraulic banked track, 17 volleyball courts, 10 basketball courts and 21 wrestling mats.
The PFD will own and operate the Sportsplex upon its completion in 2021.
The venue will be funded through a combination of $11 million in bond reserve funds from the public facilities district, $5 million from the city, $1 million from a state capital budget request and $35 million in bonds from the county.
“It’s a great model for intergovernmental cooperation. The challenge is there’s so many people making decisions and putting money into it that all have a voice at the table. That makes it harder to drive it forward,” Soehren said. “In the end, I think it’s a great project. I see great things ahead. The Spokane Sports Commission has booked a big event with many more to come. The demand is real for what we are going to have in that building.”
Soehren is involved with several trade, civic and community organizations, such as Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Association of Washington Business, the Providence Health Care Community Ministry and the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital Foundation boards. He’s also served on YMCA’s corporate board.
Soehren said as he enters semi-retirement and reduces some board commitments, he would like to spend time volunteering at organizations.
“There’s a lot of volunteer jobs you can do in the health system, and I think that probably appeals to me – to move out of the boardroom and actually get face-to-face where you can help people,” he said. “We’ll see where it goes.”
Kiemle Hagood was heavily involved in managing a housing rehabilitation program with the city of Spokane as well as low-income housing for various nonprofit organizations. It also operated a loan and renovation program for low-income, owner-occupied properties to help people remain in their homes.
“We always encourage people to get involved, whether its your Chamber or Little League,” Soehren said. “Ed Kiemle modeled that for the company and so did Jerry Hagood. We’ve all been involved in the community over the years.”
Soehren, 62, will continue working at Kiemle Hagood in a lesser role and represent the company for the next year in community activities, but is looking forward to spending time traveling with his wife.
“I always felt that if I could retire at 62, that would be ideal. I want to have the ability to see the rest of the world,” he said. “There’s just a lot of things we want to do and enjoy life.”
Soehren added it’s time for the next generation to lead Kiemle Hagood.
“I think Gordon at the top is going to be amazing,” Soehren said, adding Hester and Casey Brazil, who became vice president and treasurer of Kiemle & Hagood, were instrumental in the company’s growth. “So, I see good things coming. It’s their turn.”
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