Part 1 revealed the story of how we purchased an old commercial building for redevelopment, and determined its highest and best use. Part 2 explores the next phase: Our re-development plan, selective demolition, and the actual construction according to our adaptive reuse plan. Luckily the seller was required to remove all the building contents prior to closing—all those spoiled hair products—and they hired an environmental contractor to do so.
We were therefore given a clean Phase I Environmental Report, and just to play it safe, we used our own environmentally certified contractor to gut the building. They removed all the old plumbing, electrical, HVAC, most of the drywall partitioning, ceiling tiles, and all floor coverings except the hardwood floors in the stairwell and second story offices. Luckily there was no hazardous material and the building had great “bones”, with its concrete floors downstairs, 12-inch thick masonry walls, and metal casement windows throughout, with the old hand cranks. Ceiling heights were 11 ft. downstairs and 9 ft. upstairs with the ceiling tiles removed.
There were only two property intrusions during the entire redevelopment period. A few homeless transients moved in after demo but before construction, when we were in design phase and not at the property very much. They vacated when asked and we didn’t press charges. A bit later, a criminal genius tried to cut a live electrical line that we had saved from the old system, to have power for construction. He was obviously going for the copper. I arrived at the building one Sunday morning to see pair of bolt-cutters fried-fused to the building next to the electrical box and a crispy severed fingertip a few feet away. Idiot! (Serves him right)
Since no original blueprints existed, I had our architect do a scale drawing of the entire building. I needed this in order to sketch floor plan ideas. I wanted all five studios to follow the same general design idea. That is, a publicly entered front space with a 15-foot drywall attached to the masonry on one side (for work stations, retail display, kitchen build-out, etc.); a central core build-out containing a bath/shower, space for closet or washer/dryer stack, and the HVAC/electrical service area; and finally a more private, rear space separated by a sliding, lockable door, with its own entry/exit door to the outside.
The architect turned my ideas and sketches into a complete new set of building plans, that once finally approved by the City, were ready to be shopped to a few contractors for construction bids. Even after the big delays with the City, choosing the right contractor took another three months, but we got a good one. I was on site most every day of construction, trying to walk the fine line of not micro-managing but still making sure there was good communication among all the subs and the superintendent. I also needed to make a thousand on-the-spot decisions which always come up during construction, and especially so in a re-development. There are just so many surprises.
The first floor of the building had been modified by various owners over the years, cutting doorways through demising structural block walls, and the cumulative result was a rat’s maze that made no sense. As it turned out, we returned the first floor to its original configuration of three shop spaces. This required quite a few masonry fills. We then installed glass storefront doors and windows. Each shop had a front and rear entrance, and the new studios sizes ranged from 900 to 1300 SF.
A fully enclosed stairwell with its own entrance separate from the storefronts led to an upstairs central terrace. From here there were eight doors leading into tiny offices surrounding the terrace. We removed all the partition walls, creating two C-shaped units that wrapped the terrace, each with a front and rear entrance onto the terrace. This involved filling in four of the doors, and installing vintage metal frame windows that matched the existing casement windows we wanted to keep. The result was two completely open lofts, one 1100 SF and the other 1350 SF, with tons of natural light.
In addition to the front stairwell access to the second floor, there was another rear hallway exit to a metal staircase on the outside rear of the building, providing access to the parking lot.
We wanted to make the units as move-in ready as possible, but still avoid unnecessary tenant improvements. Each unit was separately metered and given its own roof-mounted air conditioner. New plumbing and electrical service were installed throughout. We created five covered parking spaces on-site, one for each unit, and added a remote-controlled gate for extra security. We installed a separate security system in each unit and pulled ten pairs of phone/broadband lines to each studio.
We refinished the wood floors in the second floor studios, and polished the exposed concrete floors on the first floor. While we insulated the ceiling joist area between the first and second floors with recycled blue jean denim to cut noise, we left the second floor ceiling joists open. This was possible because we super-insulated the roof with 26 inches of styrene foam, capped with a traditional 4-inch foam roof. The R-factor is like R-1000 (just kidding, I don’t have a clue).
Inside the units we used exposed HVAC ducting and installed cable-strung halogen lights providing hip ambient lighting. Although the exposed masonry walls were soda-blasted down to the raw block, tiny multi-colored flecks of sixty years of paint layers remained, making one wonder about who the many former occupants might have been. I did some research actually, sifting through old permit files and yellow pages ads back to 1948. The original permit states that the building was originally “offices”. Over the years it was home to The Armenian American Restaurant, The Hungarian Cafe, The Hideaway Tavern, Markow Photography, Progressive Litho Service, and Desert Southwest Studios, among many others...lots of stories in those wall paint colors.
The whole redevelopment project took two years. The two biggest delays were 1) getting drawings approved at the City of Phoenix who were back-logged six months due to the incredible amount of building valley-wide at the time; and 2) our soda-blaster, a commercial pilot by day who only did blasting at night. It took him three months to blast the building interior, and this put all other construction on hold because blasting is a god-awful mess. We chose him because he was half the price of the other bids, but this delay combined with the city delay proved to be detrimental to our market timing...a bit of 20-20 hindsight right there--never go low bidder! But boy did the sandblasting look cool!
In Part 3, the story concludes with how the community and market responded to the finished McDowell Studios...