A Richland company has an ambitious goal of bringing city-dwellers back to the central downtown area, to places either dominated by businesses or abandoned altogether.
This includes high-profile locations in The Parkway and along Jadwin Avenue and George Washington Way, including the controversial pit at the gateway to the city.
“The goal is to add a critical mass of people in the downtown Richland core area who will have the opportunity to walk or bike to work, walk or bike to recreation, and walk or bike to restaurants,” said David Lippes, principal at Boost Builds. “As we develop commercially, and we add residential, we are effectively urbanizing this area of the Tri-Cities.”
The company recently bought two buildings on Jadwin Avenue once occupied by Fluor Corp. for just over $1 million. The smaller of the two — a five-story nearly 50,000-square-foot building at 1100 Jadwin — is about 65 percent occupied, while its sister seven-story building has 110,000 square feet of vacant space. The buildings are on a 9.74-acre city-owned campus.
Lippes said he’s dreaming of what the buildings can become, with plans to rebuild the commercial site at 1100 Jadwin and then take on a larger project at 1200 Jadwin.
“We want to pull off a sort of Portland-style conversion of the large one into a loft-like, multi-family apartment, adding more critical mass to this area,” he said.
Commercial broker Derrick Stricker of NAI Tri-Cities Commercial, who has been working for the past three-and-a-half years to sell the Jadwin property, said Boost Builds understands its long-term value.
“Their vision will sync up to what the highest and best use of this property and should yield results that are exciting to see. From my view point, once 1200 Jadwin is stabilized with tenants, then there would be reason to talk about the next large vertical office building in Tri-Cities. We can’t build up, until we fill up our office vacancies,” Stricker said.
Boost Builds combines Lippes’ 25 years of experience in finance with principal John Crook’s decades-long history of managing housing.
Their company’s mission is to bring innovation to the land development process and is focused on three areas: multi-family housing, commercial building and student life, which includes student housing.
While not officially Boost at the time, Lippes and Crook were partners in the development of the new dormitory at Columbia Basin College, Sunhawk Hall.
The business partners are focused on “boosting” their surroundings.
“We both showed up around 20 years ago to a city that was in desperate need of people who were willing to invest in a local market to improve their own quality of life,” Lippes said.
Crook and Lippes want to be those people who invest — and not only financially — in the future of the Tri-Cities.
“As opposed to ‘not in my backyard,’ we’re in my backyard and we want to make our backyard a better place,” Crook said.
This backyard currently includes areas in and around The Parkway, where the men recently purchased and drastically updated the building at 723 The Parkway, also home to Fuse SPC, a co-working community.
“We think this building could exist in Portland, Seattle or Boise and people would be proud of it,” Lippes said. “We want to bring a new level of expectation to our community.”
Boost Builds also is working with Illinois-based real estate developer The Crown Group to fill in and develop Richland’s notorious pit at 650 George Washington Way, often cited as an unsightly welcome mat to what the city has called a “vital link between the city’s downtown and waterfront areas.”
They’re optimistic the project, called Park Place, will be completed by fourth quarter 2019.
Lippes said the final hurdle for the city-owned property is raising the remaining equity. They are pursuing financing through the federal Housing and Urban Development agency.
“We need 5 million bucks. We’ve got most of it, and we haven’t reached out to get the rest of it because we’re putting finishing touches on the financing. But basically, we expect to be coming out of the ground late summer, early fall,” Lippes said.
The four-story apartment building will have underground parking and 6,700 square feet of retail space.
“Every other place in the Tri-Cities is three stories. Why? Because you don’t need an elevator. So we went higher. We have two elevators. It’s much more of an urban building,” Lippes said. They expect a 12- to 15-month construction project resulting in studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments designed by a Portland architect.
“One of the decisions to go up four floors is that the view over the park is spectacular,” Crook said. “So you’ve got a park on one side and a couple 100-foot walks to the center of The Parkway.”
Every unit will have a balcony offering a view of the river and storage for renters to keep kayaks or bikes on the park level. The project includes removal of the former CREHST museum off Amon Park Drive, as well as filling in the pit.
Just across the street, in The Parkway, Boost Builds is also working with a group that acquired a dilapidated, abandoned building at 702 The Parkway, just south of Frost Me Sweet near the fountain.
“We are following that business model of working with some local companies that have an interest in participation on buildings, to be their sort of signature corporate home,” Crook said. They aren’t ready to announce final plans for the building just yet but assure it is “something that will be really exciting.”
Crook and Lippes also are focused on bringing nightlife back to The Parkway, as well as experiential businesses, like Greenies, which sells and rents paddleboards, kayaks and bikes. They believe this would help to create a destination for people to gather.
“We want character. We don’t want another Wall Street-financed chain destroying individual and family-owned businesses landing in our Tri-Cities. That’s what lands here and some of us have to stand up and do what Porter’s Real Barbecue has done and what Frost Me Sweet has done and provide environments for humanity instead of money. This is about character and culture,” Lippes said.
Despite the activity in and around The Parkway, Boost Builds is not focused solely on Richland.
“We also believe it’s time to look for opportunities to renovate, enhance, improve upon what’s here already,” Crook said. “At this point one of our biggest challenges is being disciplined about what we take on because we’ve got a lot going on right now.”
The men speak with pride of their past work on the student housing project completed at CBC, describing a growing movement within community colleges to take on student housing that’s overlooked by companies generally building housing at large universities.
They believe creating affordable, modern housing for local students provides one more opportunity for their future success.
“The education provided by community colleges is the catalyst to elevate students from one socioeconomic class to another,” Lippes said. “Kids who go to a university, they generally are reaching the educational level reached by one or both of their parents. That is not true of community college. So community colleges are really these socioeconomic game changers, which is really exciting.”
That excitement includes the targeted effort to urbanize a suburban community, as a means of improving the overall quality of life.
“John and I look at each other and say, ‘We want to improve the environment in which we live, in which our families live,’ ” Lippes said. “We think there’s a lot of demand from others who think like us, so it’s a matter of what we can do in the local market to build a community we want to live in.”
Boost is also encouraged by Richland’s plans to move City Hall and the George Washington Way fire station, which will allow for a new entry to Howard Amon Park and attract more people to this area of the city.
“Things are happening here and we’re excited to be a part of it,” Crook said.
They believe the Tri-Cities’ history as a federally-driven economy has stalled past opportunities for growth, but the time has come to invest and improve the Tri-Cities as other communities have done.
“Someone has to drive it. Redevelopment is hard work. It’s expensive work. And with the cities’ help and people who, on the private side, are driving it, it’s going to happen,” Lippes said.
Information: boostbuilds.com; 723 The Parkway, Richland.
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