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April 27, 2009

After $3M rehab, OddFellows goal is to be a good neighbor

Journal Staff Reporter

When developer Ted Schroth of GTS Development bought the OddFellows Building at 915 E. Pine, he did some nail biting while waiting for the city to decide whether the renovation plans were significant enough to warrant a seismic upgrade for the building.

If they had deemed the upgrade necessary, Schroth said, “it would have rendered the project unfeasible.”

“We had to commit before the city made that decision, so that was pretty scary,” he said.

Luckily, Schroth said, the city deemed it a non-substantial rehabilitation. So the six-person investor group Schroth led on the project went forward with a facelift for the 101-year-old building, which is across the street from Cal Anderson Park. Schroth said the building is a perfect case for “economically-feasible preservation.”

“I'm a believer in density and I'm a believer in appropriate preservation,” Schroth said. “I think buildings that are well built, especially iconic (buildings) like this one, deserve to be kept.”

The $3 million renovation of the 70,000-square-foot building was just completed. The building has 46,000 rentable square feet. About 17,000 square feet of office space and 3,000 square feet of retail is still unleased.

The bulk of the building's office space, 14,000 square feet, in on the top floor. The space, which used to be a series of small offices, was transformed into larger, open spaces. Boarded-over skylights were revealed and walls were removed to expose 100-year old trusses that had never seen the light of day.

Schroth is hoping to attract creative businesses like design, public relations and architectural firms to the spaces. Schroth said he will lease spaces as small as 1,500 square feet. There is also 3,000-square-feet of office space available on the second floor.

Half of the project's $2 million hard costs went for big-ticket items: A new sprinkler system, new HVAC system, and new electrical and transformer services. Other work included renovation of common spaces; exterior cleaning, tuckpointing and trim painting; new plumbing; and adding three new bathrooms. The building used to have only one toilet on the main floor and one on the top floor.

Schroth said a major goal has been to keep the historical feel, and that meant not making visible aesthetic changes to the space, despite making significant structural improvements.

“Part of our mission in remodeling the building was to use a light touch,” he said. “We wanted the new stuff to feel like it had always been here.”

New lights and fixtures were selected to match the period. Aesthetic alterations were kept to a minimum to keep the original feel, like in the Century Ballroom dance space, where only sprinklers were added and cracked pipes repaired. Throughout the building, terra cotta wasn't painted, the trim colors were maintained, and the building's original fire doors were reused.

The only real demolition was on the top floor, where walls were removed. When plaster fell off the doorframes during demolition, Schroth said he asked workers to leave the plaster unevenly exposed around the brick rather than smooth out the edges.

“When you look at it from an architectural standpoint, it was a success because it looks much like it did originally and it's still standing, and it's obviously a vital part of the neighborhood,” said Jeff Oaklief of Johnson Architecture & Planning, which did the shell and core adaptation, reconfigured some spaces and did structural design work. “The alternative in structures like that, especially when development pressures are great, is you tear the building down.”

Swenson Say Faget was structural engineer and did the wall analysis.

There was much collaboration on the design, Schroth said, with some work done by Johnson Architecture & Planning, some by interior designer Robin Freeman of two9design and some by Michael Klebeck, co-founder of Top Pot Donuts. The bathrooms and some of the exterior and finishes were designed with Klebeck's help, Schroth said. Klebeck designed Top Pot spaces and the lobby for Trace Lofts, which Schroth also developed.

“You don't want to just go in and erase everything,” said Freeman. “There's a learning curve to any adaptive reuse because every building is different.”

Tenants also have kept to the “light touch” rule in improving their spaces, Schroth said. Restaurateur Linda Derschang opened the OddFellows Cafe + Bar on the ground floor at the corner of 10th and Pine in December. The cafe has an old flag and portraits that once hung in the OddFellows original spaces, as well as spare period lighting and rustic tables.

Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream, which was scheduled to open Saturday on the ground floor at Pine Street, has tin ceilings and period lighting.

The building's only visibly modern element, Schroth said, is an aluminum garage door installed on 10th Avenue where an elevator used to be.

The building was built in 1908 for the Fraternal Order of Odd Fellows and designed by architect Carl Alfred Breitung. It is not a protected city landmark, and the renovation did not require the type of permitting that would have triggered a landmark review, Schroth said.

The project has not been without controversy. The building used to house several arts and cultural organizations that have moved out, unable to afford higher rents stemming from the rehabilitation. Some tenants like Seattle Running Co., H & R Block and Century Ballroom have stayed.

Michael Killoren of the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs said the project jump-started a city effort to find ways to preserve space for art and cultural organizations in the future.

“There was quite an outcry in the community when the building was sold because of the loss of spaces for so many traditional artistic tenants,” Killoren said. “(The city's) effort was a direct result of that particular building and its transformation.”

Jack Hilovsky of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce said the project has brought both positives and negatives to the neighborhood. Though some of the arts organizations, like Velocity Dance Center, will be moving out for lower rents elsewhere, the building has also attracted lots of small, locally owned businesses that add to the neighborhood.

“It's a matter of Ted being patient and looking for the right businesses,” Hilovsky said. “He knows what will work in that block and what will bring new energy to Capitol Hill, and I give him credit for that and appreciate that he is patient enough to seek out the right tenants.”

Schroth said he has made a concerted effort to get independent tenants.

“We've had plenty of national franchise retailers approach us but we've wanted to hold out for tenants that better fit the community,” he said. “It's in our long-term interest to have the building fit into the social fabric of the community.”

He said he had hoped to keep more of the arts and cultural organizations but many couldn't afford to pay market-rate rents. He said he also made a short-term sweetheart deal to keep Velocity Dance temporarily.

“It's more of a market-rate proposition now, and we just simply could not afford to sustain the previous clientele at rates they could afford,” he said.

This is not Schroth's first time working on an older building. GTS Development — the GTS stands for George Theodore Schroth — was development manager on Trace Lofts and Trace North, two nearby condo/retail projects at Madison and 12th Avenue.

Schroth has done about a dozen other renovations and conversions, including the Strand at 221 Belmont Ave. E., the Harrison at 316 E. Harrison, the Austin at 409 10th Ave. E. and the Rowan Condos at 525 16th Ave. E. Schroth was also developer of Solstice at Fremont, a new 12-unit condo building at 3671 Dayton Ave. N. that was completed in 2001.

Schroth, who is Canadian, was working in Seattle as a lawyer when he first started development work. By 1997 he was developing full time. He said his past projects have helped him to better anticipate the kind of problems that routinely come up.

“In an old building like this, you're going to have tons of costs,” he said. “We blew through our contingency costs and then some.”

Schroth said he first got interested in the OddFellows Building about two years ago. It was not on the market, but he had a business associate call to investigate and was able to come to a deal with the owners to buy it for $8.5 million.

Chinn Construction was contractor for the project and Redside Partners is the property manager.

Schroth said the nontraditional office space, and mix of cafes and community spaces fit the way people like to do business now. Schroth, for example, checks his email in the OddFellows Restaurant even though his office just a few hundred feet away has Internet access.

“This building is a microcosm of the way office trends are going,” he said. “The way I like to do my business, and the way I've heard from others that they like to do their business, fits very well in this building.”


Shawna Gamache can be reached by email or by phone at (206) 622-8272.

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