A good connection for a cool, rundown building

March 13, 2009
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Two companies are coming together to renovate a two-story structure not far from downtown for their growing businesses.

M Retail Solutions and Catalyst Partners will redevelop a century-old building at 502 Second St. NW, situated between Broadway and Seward avenues a few blocks west of the core business district. Both firms will relocate there.

“We found a pretty cool rundown building and we’re going to redo it. It will house, at a minimum, our offices,” said Chris Muller, president of M Retail Solutions, which locates spaces in Michigan and on the East Coast for retailers and restaurant owners.

Muller said the front half of the building has two floors and Catalyst Partners will take that space, while M Retail Solutions will occupy the single-level back half that features a 19-foot ceiling and an industrial bay with a crane.

“I’ve been through a lot of old buildings and maybe nine out of 10 you walk out and say, ‘Well, there’s a reason why someone hasn’t done much with it.’ But this was one where I went in and saw that it definitely has potential,” said Muller.

“It’s got kind of neat terracotta construction. When you expose it, it will be a pretty cool looking space. It’s almost built like a bomb shelter. It’s almost all masonry with big concrete pillars,” he said, adding that the building was used for a grain operation at one time.

The firms will invest $450,000 into the project, seek Platinum LEED certification for the structure once the work is done, and pursue a zero-carbon operational footprint with solar energy. They haven’t selected an architect or a contractor yet, but Muller said a few of the designers at Catalyst Partners are putting together ideas of how the spaces could look.

City Economic Development Director Kara Wood said the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority added the project to its brownfield plan, meaning the developers could qualify for tax incentives if city commissioners approve the request. Commissioners will hold a hearing on the application in two weeks.

“This project is a great example of how our economic development tools get put to work in rebuilding sustainable neighborhood commercial districts,” said Wood.

The building has been vacant for more than four years and Wood said it needs a full rehab to make it habitable. Muller said they want to get the work started by early summer and expects it will take about six months to complete.

The property once held another building but it was lost to a fire in the 1950s, so there is room to expand the existing building someday or add another structure to the site.

Once the project is finished, M Retail Solutions will be moving from 560 Fifth St. NW, one of the former John D. Widdicomb Furniture Co. buildings that Robert Israels restored.

“This allows me to expand and stay in the neighborhood, which I like. I think the area has tremendous potential and it’s so close to downtown. The sights from the building look out at the skyline,” said Muller, who has been in the retail real estate industry since 1995 and started his current company in 2006.

Catalyst Partners develops and implements sustainable and restorative designs for buildings, interiors and products. The firm will be moving to Second Street from its suite at 80 Ottawa Ave. NW. Catalyst Partners also has an office in Costa Rica.

“A client of mine was approached by Catalyst, which was looking for space, and they asked my client who they should go to, to come up with pro formas, analyze facilities and so forth,” said Muller on how the two firms came together for the project.

“He gave them my name and we quickly found out we were both looking for the very same thing, and we hit it off. It was a good connection, for sure.”

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