From run-down to retail in Washington Heights
While the economy continues to struggle, some have decided to take lemons and make lemonade.
Chris Dobs and Tim Nechvatal did just that when they bought a deserted building in the Washington Heights neighborhood and began transforming it into what they hope will be a thriving retail center.
“It was abandoned for five years,” said Dobs. “It was a mess.”
The roof was badly damaged, and the buckling flooring needed to be replaced.
“This building was an eyesore,” said Nechvatal. “It was a place for vagrants. It was a nuisance in the neighborhood.”
Dobs and Nechvatal decided to buy the property, at 5322 to 5330 W. Vliet St., for two reasons. One was need: Nechvatal, an environmental consultant who owns Epic Minerals in Brookfield, wanted office space in the area. The other was desire: Dobs lives and works in the area — he is a co-owner of a floral shop, Urban Sense, just west of the property — and wanted to help revitalize the Heights.
“We’re not doing this to make money,” said Dobs. “We’re doing it to benefit the community and this side of town.”
“It’s a good time to get good deals if you’re willing to do the work,” added Nechvatal.
They got the good deal — and the work.
According to the city assessor’s office, the property is worth $197,000, but the two bought the property last January for $36,000. When all is said and done, the business partners said they will make a $200,000 investment in the property.
“We’re definitely not flippers,” said Dobs. “We don’t do this for a living.”
Right from the start, they had to redo electrical and plumbing work, which they contracted out, but most everything else they did on their own, with the help of family and friends.
Dobs said they were quite a bit behind schedule, as they initially wanted the building open for business this September. Part of the reason for the delay was the building’s dilapidated condition.
“Doing a project like this is by no means easy,” he said. “When we walked in, there was snow coming in from the roof.”
“The entire front of the building is brand new,” said Nechvatal.
Other reasons also contributed to the slowdown. Dobs and Nechvatal said furlough days increased the time it took to get city building permits, and Nechvatal traveled to Green Bay to get the necessary approvals.
“Getting plans for the building approved took two months,” said Dobs.
When complete, the building will have five suites, including one that is already open, Workx Space, and a second, Square One Art Glass, that will open within weeks. Workx Space is a meeting area for small business owners to use for networking and meetings; Square One Art Glass will have a studio and an area where Dobs and Nechvatal will hold classes on glass blowing.
“Tim and I had blown glass in the past,” said Dobs.
“We’re going to have a gallery in front,” Nechvatal said, “where we’ll show our own pieces and that from other glass artists in Wisconsin.”
Dobs said space is still available for two retailers and a restaurant, and he hopes the building, with a total of 4,000 square feet available for lease, will be at full occupancy shortly after the holidays.