Written by Jordan Tampien, Co-Founder of 4 Degrees Real Estate
Downtown Spokane is the soul of the city. Our impressive history is evident in the iconic stone details etched into our buildings and amazing businesses that call it home. From the Brick West plaza on a summer afternoon to Riverfront Park for a concert, our downtown is taking shape and reinventing itself as a top destination in the Pacific Northwest.
In recent years, downtown Spokane has started to welcome more and more residents through conversion of these historic buildings, transforming them from offices and warehouses to residential units. The reasons for this trend are varied, but one of the greatest benefits is the welcoming of a younger demographic breathing a new life into our downtown.
Why convert old buildings? I love older buildings, from the character of timber beams to exposed brick, but many of these buildings have been cost prohibitive to renovate. But with housing demand at an all-time high, downtown has emerged as one of the best locations to meet some of this demand.
Office buildings have historically been struggling to fill vacancies, and converting them into apartments will provide additional housing and fill an otherwise vacant building.
Another big reason for the shift from office toward residential units is the changing nature of work. With more companies allowing employees to work remotely, the need for office space is decreasing. As a result, many companies are downsizing their office space or moving to more affordable locations. This has left many office buildings with large amounts of vacant space that can be repurposed into apartments.
For example, in our Lolo Loft project on the west end of downtown, we were able to convert an old office and warehouse to upscale apartments that are walking distance from coffee shops, breweries, restaurants and parks. The ultimate in urban living!
But just converting the buildings is one thing, who will occupy them is more important. The most recent downtown conversions of the M Apartments and the Marjorie Apartments illustrate just how amazing these conversions can look and, more importantly, how this type of product is helping to attract a younger demographic to the downtown core, from college students to recent graduates and young professionals deciding to call Spokane home.
For example, with our new project of converting the Peyton Building to residential apartments, we are targeting a unit type of housing people can afford. This approach accounts for the all-in living cost of a resident. In other words, we consider the housing, transportation, food, and entertainment costs a resident would incur living in Spokane. This includes positioning the project adjacent to a major transportation hub and business district so residents can walk to work and eliminate the need for a car; a specific building design that will reduce monthly heating/cooling costs paid by the residents; and offering fun amenities for residents, such as game rooms and pet areas to provide free entertainment options. Downtown development is an ideal location for this resident-centric approach, offering the ultimate in affordable urban living that will differentiate these apartments from other Spokane housing options.
From a downtown growth perspective, it is crucial that we get more residents living downtown to help stimulate growth and vibrancy. Many young professionals are looking for vibrant and dynamic urban environments to live in, and downtown Spokane has the potential to offer just that. This younger population living in downtown Spokane can help attract more businesses and job opportunities to the area. This, in turn, can lead to a positive economic impact on the city as a whole.
However, there are also challenges that come with converting office buildings into apartments. One of the main challenges is the increased cost to develop these historic buildings. This can be attributed to the age of the buildings, and tight construction sites make developing these buildings more difficult, along with the need for infrastructure upgrades to support the increased population density. This includes improvements to public transportation, utilities, and other public services.
Additionally, there may be concerns around the cost vs. benefit of preserving the historic character of some of these buildings and ensuring that they are safe and livable for residents. Despite these challenges, the benefits of converting office buildings into apartments and attracting residents to downtown Spokane outweigh the drawbacks. This trend is not only beneficial for building owners and developers, but also for the entire city.
Development downtown and the influx of residents living in downtown Spokane is a positive trend that can help continue to revitalize the city. By creating a more vibrant and dynamic urban environment, the city can preserve the history of the buildings while attracting more businesses and job opportunities, and ultimately improve the quality of life for its residents. Let’s continue to preserve and grow the soul of Spokane!
This piece was featured in the Downtown Spokane Partnership’s 2023 Annual Report. To read the full report, click below.