Seattle Sun Newspaper - Vol. 8, Issue 6, June 2004

Copyright 2004 Seattle Sun. Please feel free to use the article below in your research. Be sure to cite the Seattle Sun as your source.

Property owners spruce up along The Ave


Sometimes, you CAN judge a book by its cover.

That's the theory behind the City's facade improvement program, which last month provided almost $80,000 in grants to business and property owners along University Way Northeast ("The Ave.") to improve the look of their storefronts.

These grants are provided through the federal Community Development Block Grant program, says Jennifer Davis-Hayes, senior community development specialist for Seattle's Office of Economic Development. Property owners can be reimbursed for up to $10,000 of a facade improvement project costing at least $20,000. Another $55,000 remains available for future grants to businesses and property owners along the University District's main business strip.

Scott Soules, vice president and general manager of Soules Properties Inc., aided eight business tenants with a $35,000 improvement project on his building on the northwest corner of North 43rd Street and The Ave.

That's not to say his tenants didn't help him too: Allison Claussen, owner of Four Corners Art & Frame, was in charge of picking the facade colors: terra cotta, a deep burgundy, and navy-blue trim.

"She is in the arts business, so she knows colors," says Soules. "I learned a lot looking over her shoulder and watching her."

The new color scheme "is nice for the type of stucco finish that the building has," adds Claussen, who has owned her business for 10 years.

It's amazing "what good choices of paint, new awnings and good signage will do for you," says Teresa Lord Hugel, executive director of the Greater University Chamber of Commerce. Hugel chairs an eight-person committee which awards the grants; the chamber also serves as fiscal agent for the project.

Soules says the 16,000-square-foot building was ready for a facelift. Built around the time of the 1909 Alaska Yukon and Pacific Exhibition, the structure underwent a major remodel in the late 1970s. "It was time for a little more of a major rehab on the outside," says Soules, of work that included the installation of new awnings and a front window that opens for one tenant. "It's generally cosmetic stuff," he says. "It just improved the overall street appearance of the building."

In addition to the Soules Building, the other structures benefited by grants were: Flowers Restaurant, Ruby Restaurant, Hartung Building (Commercial Property Advisors), University Theater (Wing It Productions), Timberlake Building, Gargoyles Statuary, University Cooperative School, Grand Illusion Cinema, University Hardware, Melender Corporation, and the Johnny's Flowers Building (4145 University Way LLC). Several grants were for the full $10,000; the smallest was for $145 to help pay for one storefront to install film on its front window to prevent acid etching.

Property owners considering a new look for their storefronts also were aided by the participants in a University of Washington School of Architecture graduate class taught by Jim Nicholls, which ran a storefront studio on The Ave. in the spring of 2003. "They really helped us get [the program] going," says Hugel. "The businesses came and got a lot of design ideas."

"The energy that that created really was a catalyst," agrees Soules. "It really got people thinking."

The focus on facade restorations comes less than a year after the City completed an $8 million project which reconstructed the street and sidewalks on The Ave.

Kian Pornour, co-owner and general manager of The Woolly Mammoth Inc., a shoe store that is another Soules tenant, says he's pleased to see the recent public investment in helping the University District rebound. When he was first hired at the store in 1986, people thought of the U-District as a second downtown, he says. But, as other neighborhoods grew, The Ave. stayed stagnant.

He adds that the new public and private investment has provided concrete results. "My sales have been up dramatically from last year," he says.

Pornour says that he is especially happy to see the University of Washington acting as a partner with the city and community on projects such as the Campus Parkway Plaza. "What we are trying to do is make the University of Washington more a part of the neighborhood," says Pornour, who is vice president of the chamber's board of directors.

While his building's new look should help his tenants, Soules sees one other major benefit to the facade program. "It's so nice to get money back from the government," he says. "It's usually a one-way street going the other way."