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April 25, 2016

The Nature Conservancy finds old building just right for its new HQ

Journal Staff Reporter

Photos by Nat Levy [enlarge]
Gutting the former Skyway Luggage building at Western and Wall allowed crews to create an open, airy place with a deck on the roof.

The Nature Conservancy’s offices have a variety of places to work, in groups or alone. Reclaimed wood is used throughout, from the front door to the ceilings and walls.

When Joe Razore and his team first started giving prospective tenants tours of the Skyway Luggage Building, a healthy imagination was required.

The three-story, 106-year-old structure at 2501 Western Ave. in Belltown was stripped to the bones, and the windows were broken and boarded up. But the team had a vision for the old building: create an open, airy place with a deck on the roof — the perfect headquarters for a small firm.

“There was a type of tenant we wanted,” Razore said, “someone who was going to value that we are revitalizing and saving this building, and also someone who stood for the same things we stand for.”

Razore and his partners, Chris Langer and Skip Slavin, purchased the 24,000-square-foot building in October 2014 for $2.6 million in a joint venture with Razore's family business: MRM Capital.

In early 2015, Razore's plans for the Skyway building crossed the desks of Lisa McCabe and Kelley Sigl of Kinzer Partners, who were representing The Nature Conservancy. After 10 years in the Alaska Trade Building on First Avenue near Pike Place Market, the global environmental organization was looking for a new Washington headquarters. To McCabe, the Skyway building seemed like a perfect fit.

“We immediately recognized this as a unique opportunity that could really dovetail well with what The Nature Conservancy does,” McCabe said. “They didn't want to renovate a building, but the fact that it was an older building that was already getting fully renovated, there was a sustainability story about it.”

In May 2015, The Nature Conservancy leased the entire building. It worked with Razore and his team on the renovation with the goal of reusing as much of the old wood and other material as possible.

SHED Architecture & Design designed the project, and W.G. Clark Construction Co. was the general contractor. SABArchitects worked on interiors for The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy began moving in on March 1, though it's still waiting on a few things like signage, rooftop furniture and artwork.

Reclaimed wood is everywhere: from the front door and reception desk to the ceilings and walls. Reused beams and pillars are evident throughout.

The conservancy's space also has a number of modern touches. Desks can be raised or lowered for standing or sitting, and there is an open floor plan so everyone can work together, including top personnel.

Breakout rooms and meeting spaces around the perimeter come in a various of sizes, and are equipped with phones, large screens and projectors for virtual meetings. Some spaces are light on technology for employees who want to focus.

Originally, the conservancy was looking at space in a high rise, but when those discussions stalled, Melinda Milner, director of operations for the conservancy, said a smaller building with outdoor space started to be more appealing.

Milner said the conservancy appreciated the chance to be in a building that was “at a human scale, and that could be connected to the outside where we could be part of the urban community, as opposed to sitting up in a high rise, very detached and disconnected from the kind of work we do.”

The renovation was a “gut job” Razore said. The team did seismic and energy upgrades, and changed the first floor from storage to parking for cars and bikes. The rooftop deck has views of Elliott Bay.

Razore is both a developer and a broker at Broderick Group. He and partners Langer and Slavin developed a pair of small apartment buildings on Capitol Hill, and MRM Capital is working on an apartment building with about 200 units near Talon Private Capital's complex called Kirkland Urban.

But Razore said the Skyway building was the most difficult project he's ever done.

“There were so many surprises,” he said. “As you took a wall down, the plans didn't show a beam or a cross beam, and then you had to react to it.”

Not all the surprises were bad. When crews ripped out the ceiling on the third floor, a hidden skylight was revealed. It's now a prominent feature in the conservancy's new space.

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