Renovating old buildings a big challenge
Any homeowner who’s ever had to replace a roof, buy a new furnace or replace flooring knows that renovation projects often cost more time and money than the owner anticipates. If that’s true for a 25-year-old home, consider how appropriate it is for a 100-year-old commercial building.
Autopaychecks, a local payroll and human resource outsourcing company started by CPA Angela Hildebrand seven years ago, bought one of the oldest buildings in Grand Junction in October 2009. When it was first built, the building was a blacksmith shop. Prior to the acquisition by Autopaychecks, the building was a nurse’s uniform supply shop. Although the building was used in a variety of ways throughout its long history, it wasn’t updated adequately.
“I probably knew more of what I was getting into,” admits John Hildebrand, president of sales and marketing, who worked as a remodeling contractor prior to the formation of Autopaychecks. “You have to go into it with both eyes open.”
The plumbing was out of code, as was the electrical system, the heating and ventilation system and the windows. There was no insulation in the building, and the water was brought in from a source under the bathroom sink in the building next door.
“I thought I could do it for $50,000 or $60,000,” says Hildebrand. However, as the company owners made decisions about the renovations, they realized that they wanted to create a building that was energy efficient, professional and offered the latest building technology. Improvements included energy-efficient windows, adequate insulation, new wiring and a grid-tied solar system that generates the building’s electricity and sends the meter spinning backward on sunny weekends.
The city’s improvements to Colorado Avenue included water meters in front of all the buildings, which required additional trenching, but now the building’s water no longer comes from the building next door.
“In the end, we got exactly what we wanted,” says John Hildebrand, who admits that it cost more than twice as much as originally anticipated.
“If you’re going to renovate, you have to talk refinancing,” he said. “It’s incredibly hard to come by and documentation is tougher.”
Hildebrand worked with the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and Home Loan State Bank on the project, and acknowledges their partnership in getting the building done in 43 days. He also gives kudos to his general contractor, Nathan Staten with Quality Construction, and recommends that anyone looking to renovate an old building hire a general contractor with a good reputation who knows what he’s doing.
“Our clients’ expectation of professionalism will be reflected in our place of business,” he says. “We think downtown is the place to be.”
Other entrepreneurs agree, and are willing to do the tough job of renovation to make that happen. Eric Wilmot and his partner, Vanessa Funchez, recently signed a lease for the bottom floor restaurant space in the St. Regis building at Colorado and Fourth.
“I love the downtown area,” says Wilmot. “I never once thought of anywhere else but downtown.”
Although the partners looked at available buildings on Main Street, none had a full kitchen, which was a requirement for the Irish pub they dreamed of opening. They admit that the dining area in their new digs is too big to create the intimate pub environment they want, so are planning on several interior changes to minimize the space and offer a home-away-from home atmosphere rather than a grand ballroom effect.
“An Irish pub is a very comfortable place,” explains Wilmot, who wants to offer affordable, homemade food.
The partners are excited about the introduction of Irish pub fare to the Grand Valley, but also plan on mixing up the menu and offering standard comfort food, too. The slow economy hasn’t caused them to rethink the plan.
“I think this is the best time in the last 10 years to open a restaurant,” says Wilmot, who cites lower construction costs, better leasing terms, and plenty of reasonably priced sources for restaurant equipment.
“The slow economy will give us a good picture of what works when people don’t have a lot of money to spend,” says Funchez.
Although the partners are leasing the building, they’re absorbing the cost of the renovations, which aren’t quite as extensive as they could be in most historic buildings due to a fire in the mid 1990s. As a result of the fire, the electrical system, insulation, plumbing and kitchen facilities are up to code. Renovations will include a new bar area, new flooring, new seating areas, a redesign of the heating and ventilation system and moving a fireplace.
Before beginning the work, the partners hired an architect and a general contractor. They also made sure that a plumber and an electrical engineer verified the up-to-date plumbing and electricity. They arranged a meeting with the architect, the general contractor and a representative from the health department to make sure that all improvements would meet current health and safety standards. In short, they did their homework.
“Undercapitalization is the number one reason restaurants fail,” says Wilmot, “so we’ve been saving our whole lives for this and we’re going to do it right.”
Look for Naggy McGee’s, Grand Junction’s only Irish pub, to open sometime in mid-January.