Owner says his building has gone from ugly to cool with $3M rehab

Journal Staff Reporter

For decades Sherman Clay Pianos sold musical instruments from a downtown Seattle building that, on the outside, had all the charm of a jail.

The 23,000-square-foot, four-story building is at 1624 Fourth Ave. It was constructed in 1926 for an office supply warehouse.

Sherman Clay bought it and was the only occupant until last year when the business closed there.

The original facade had an ornate neoclassical style. In the 1960s it was updated with pre-cast concrete fin panels that had thin openings and aluminum windows, giving it a jail-like look.

“It was one ugly building,” said Kevin Corbett, who bought the property with his business partner in 2011 for $2.8 million. The decision to buy “had nothing to do with the building. It was purely location.”

The building is right in the heart of downtown, between Mayflower Park Hotel and Westlake Square, and adjacent to the light rail station and Westlake Center. The mall recently got a facelift and added a Zara store.

Corbett just completed a $2.75 million remodel on his building, which included a seismic retrofit and structural upgrades. Grace Architects of Seattle designed the remodel and Abbott Construction was the contractor.

The team also included Swenson Say Faget, structural engineer; Abossein Engineering, mechanical, electrical and plumbing; SSA Acoustics, acoustical; and Lerch Bates, elevator consultant.

Buffalo Wild Wings will open in August, taking about 7,500 square feet on the first floor and basement, Corbett said. It has a 10-year lease with an option to extend.

That leaves about 4,600 square feet each on levels two, three and four. That space is in shell form, and is being marketed to office users by Nate Fliflet of CBRE.

A 2,500-square-foot residential condo or office penthouse could be built on top of the structure, but Corbett said there are no plans for an addition in the near future.

The team found some quirks in the building.

Ralph W. Allen, who owns Grace Architects, said the pit of the passenger elevator shaft was too small for the new elevator needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, so the elevator cab was modified to get the needed approvals.

Allen said the old freight elevator that had lifted Steinway grand pianos for decades was taken out so the shaft could be used to hold ducts for the new HVAC system. The system had to be installed piece by piece because there was limited access.

“Basically we had to build scaffolding from the basement to the roof,” Allen said.

The 1600-amp electrical service that was in place when Corbett and his partner bought the building is needed for tenants, including Buffalo Wild Wings, which alone will use about two-thirds of the service. The team wanted to temporarily shut down the service to add electrical gear. However the city considers that to be new service, which requires a transformer vault be installed in the building, Allen said. That vault would have taken up to 40 percent of the basement.

“That one in particular would have killed the job,” Allen said.

So the electrical system was kept on and rated live by a UL lab inspector to meet city rules, which meant the vault wasn’t needed.

“You run into this stuff in a building of this age,” Allen said. “It’s just endlessly fascinating… and not without its frustrations, but it certainly keeps it exciting.”

He said extensive field measurements and high-resolution scans of the original building’s drawings from the city showed an unusual and interesting pattern of openings and structural columns of varied widths and depths across the west wall. A curtain wall was installed about 10 inches from the face of the concrete columns and LED up-lighting now displays the pattern to the street below.

Inside, octagonally shaped cast-in-place columns with fluted caps give the place the feel of a classic warehouse, he said.

Foam insulation was installed in the uninsulated exterior walls, which are made of cast-in-place concrete, concrete masonry and structural clay tiles. A large crane was used to remove the operating windows and fin panels, which Allen said were examples of well intended “60s brutalism.”

The new facade is made of Portuguese limestone and the lobby has high ceilings and a wainscot of wood grain sandstone.

New windows were also added on the third and fourth floors.

Corbett, who declined to name his partner in the project, said this is the first commercial project he has developed. He said he has learned a lot, including that tenants want a lot of bathrooms.

He said the renovated building with its big windows and warehouse-like interior should attract creative and tech firms.

When the scaffolding came off, Corbett said the team’s hopes were validated.

“It’s a pretty cool looking building,” Corbett said. “It’s pretty amazing.” Corbett is CEO of Plus Investment USA, a local real estate arm of Hong Kong-based Plus Investment. The Seattle investment is not related to Plus Investment USA, he said.


Ballard Fire Station Reuse and Reduce / / 03.24.16

The 1970s building is 38 percent more efficient after a big renovation.

URM Building Policy Update / / 04.20.16

1164 URM buildings are on the City of Seattle's list of structures that may require seismic upgrades.

Washington Park Arboretum Trail / / 10.30.14

Swenson Say Faget provided structural engineering for bridge designs that are part of this $8 million new multi-use trail for Seattle Parks and Recreation.