By Dave Black
NAI Black Business Manager/CEO
Apartment management is a big part of our business. Our firm, Black Realty Management Inc., manages about 3,500 residential units in addition to six million square feet of commercial space. Black Realty Management Inc. employs almost 150 people, and our brokerage firm, NAI Black, has about 25 commercial specialists in Spokane, Washington, and Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. We also have a development division, which I head up myself.
Built in the early 1900s as the Columbia Building, the six-story classical revival-style structure on the southeast corner of Howard and First Avenue in downtown Spokane was purchased in the early 1970s by my father, James S. Black. This is where I spent my career from 1981 until 2018. When Dad passed away in 1984, I renamed the building after him.
In recent years, other than our own firm, the James S. Black Building was largely vacant. Being an old building, it was not attractive to many office tenants. One floor lay vacant for a decade. At the same time, we owned another building downtown at Post and Riverside. When a large tenant moved out of that building and left a whole floor vacant, in addition to half of the floor above it, we realized that with the combined space and secure underground parking (and frankly a better location for our service business), it was perfect for our company.
The James S. Black Building was more suited for residential, and I had thought about taking this leap for a few years. The numbers worked to convert it to apartments as well as remodel the Wave restaurant, located at street level. Everything came together at the same time, and we decided to move ahead right when COVID hit. It took a lot of guts to keep going, as no one knew what COVID would bring.
This has been a six-million-dollar redevelopment. We placed the building on the Historic Register, which provides a 20% federal tax credit on the money invested. We will also receive an eight-year real estate tax abatement, or 12-year real estate tax exemption if we lease to lower-income residents, through the City of Spokane’s program to promote downtown housing.
The apartments were renamed The Marjorie Apartments after my mother, completing the family legacy of this building.
We began leasing in early 2021. The 50 completed units are technically studios, which range from 350 to 750 square feet. They are relatively small but feel spacious because of the generous ceiling heights. Rents run about $2 per square foot a month. The risk has paid off and The Marjorie is almost full. We also leased the entire second floor to a new start-up, Roav Stays owned by Jake Tucker, which does Airbnb-style short-term rentals.
Our tenants are a wide range of people, but most comprise working, single households. Some of our tenants work remotely and some work downtown; either way, the location is perfect. Dedicated parking is a huge asset for tenants with cars, and tenants are within walking distance to a number of new and established eateries. Additionally, the Wave provides room service for all tenants, and there are plans for coffee and breakfast off the lobby.
There is a tremendous demand for housing downtown right now. The Symons Building across the street was recently purchased and, based on our success, I believe will soon be converted to apartments. The development division of Black Realty Inc. has several more restaurants and projects that we’ll be opening soon as well, mostly older iconic names in Spokane.
We are hopeful to see the downtown come alive again post pandemic. An active residential community will play a large role in the success and revitalization of our retail and dining communities. We continue to face challenges, but I am confident that our downtown will return to its former glory.