Revitalize this: Large, empty and downtown
This is the first in a series of articles about the emptying of the town’s core. Stories in coming weeks will include the role of government in revitalization, what has worked in other communities, and why new and existing businesses are choosing to not locate downtown.
When the Haines Borough paid $40,000 to MRV Architects for a downtown revitalization plan in 2010, the firm advised the borough work toward filling the empty lots on Main Street, such as the parking lot at the Third Avenue intersection.
The study didn’t specifically address the future of prominent buildings already on Main Street. Now some of those structures, including the Coliseum Theater, Elks Lodge, L.A.B. Flying Service and Ellingen buildings, have sat unoccupied for years.
Located on the town’s main thoroughfare, the empty buildings have become a coffee shop topic for citizens and a serious concern for owners of neighboring businesses who fear they give the town’s central business district an abandoned look.
In recent years, government and business leaders have taken note of the increased vacancies, but little progress has been made to address the trend that is occurring as other commercial areas – like Fort Seward and Dalton City – attract new businesses and investment.
COLISEUM THEATER BUILDING
Owner: Gross Alaska, Inc.
Asking Price: $425,000
2013 Assessed Building Value: $215,600
2013 Assessed Land Value: $164,600
Building Size: 2,836 square feet
Address: 214 Main Street
The former Coliseum Theater, owned by Gross Alaska, Inc ., is listed for sale with realtor John Williams of Juneau Real Estate.
The structure, built around 1918, was first owned by former Presbyterian minister A.F. McLean, who ran it as the “Rialto” theater.
In 1930, William D. Gross bought the building and eventually established the Alaska Film Exchange, to control and distribute films in the Southeast panhandle. It became “The Coliseum,” the same named attached to Gross’ theaters in Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg and Douglas.
In the 1980s, the business became Video 144 and switched from screening films to renting videos. After about 20 years, the family rented the building to Connie Ward, who ran the video rental shop and sold snacks as Connie’s Cafe until it was shuttered in 2009. It’s been vacant since.
The Gross family is seeking to sell the building for $425,000, though the land and building were valued by the borough at $380,200 in 2013.
In a recent interview, Dorain Gross said she wouldn’t consider renting the building and wouldn’t comment on whether she would think about lowering the price, though she acknowledged the number of people inquiring about the building has been “low.”
Gross allows the borough to use the building’s front windows to display art during the summer, but said she wants to keep the windows boarded up in the winter “for safety and other reasons.”
Gross’ realtor Williams said he has had “a couple of calls over the winter” about the building and is flying to Haines soon to show the building to two people. “They haven’t expressed what they want to do with it,” Williams said.
Williams touted the building’s ample parking space and price. “To build that building new it would be terribly, terribly expensive,” he said.
The building has a large retail floor area with a raised two-foot high framed platform. It also has a kitchen and apartment.
Williams acknowledged the building needs some work to the heating system, and also has limited lighting because of the lack of windows.
L.A.B. FLYING SERVICE BUILDING
Owner: Layton A. Bennett
Asking Price: Not listed
2013 Assessed Building Value: $385,600
2013 Assessed Land Value: $64,100
Building Size: 2,592 square feet
Address: 390 Main Street
Eric Bennett, son of airline owner Layton Bennett, said he doesn’t know how much to ask for the former L.A.B. Flying Service building.
Bennett’s parents left the building in December 2012 when they moved south for health reasons, and after moving out a bunch of their belongings this past summer, he just slapped a “For Sale” sign on the door to see what the response would be.
Bennett said he is “reticent to put a price on it,” especially because the recent borough land sale to Aspen Hotel might make the building and property more valuable.
“We’re motivated to sell,” Bennett said. “I think this is an opportunity for somebody who intends to run a business in Haines to pick up a quality building in what is probably going to be a primo location because of that hotel.”
According to the 2013 borough records, the land and property is valued at $449,700 ($385,600 for the building and $64,100 for the land).
The building, according to Bennett, was built as a one-story structure in the mid-1960s as the Alaska Coastal Airlines office. In the early 1970s, Layton Bennett bought the building, operated his airline out of it, and lived in an apartment in the back.
In the late-1980s, Bennett built the second story, where he lived with his family in the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. There is also a separate apartment, where pilots used to live, above the building’s garage.
The building has 1,604 square feet of office space and 988 square feet of apartment space.
Eric Bennett said he hasn’t had any offers, though he has had five inquiries to buy and one to rent. He said he isn’t enthusiastic about renting.
Though Bennett hasn’t settled on an asking price, he said he is working hard toward getting the building sold. Right now, work is being done on the building to get it ready to show, including minor sheetrock work, plumbing, roofing and other improvements.
“We’re going to seek professional advice from a real estate broker and try to get some guidance on the price,” he said.
Bennett hopes to start showing the building to prospective buyers this summer.
Bennett said he was heartened by the recent land sale to Aspen Hotel, which might bring some vitality to Main Street and positively affect neighboring property sales.
“I think maybe for the first time in a long time there might be some improvement in the real estate market in Haines,” Bennett said.
Owner: Loyd King
Asking Price: $299,900
2013 Assessed Building Value: $185,100
2013 Assessed Land Value: $63,800
Building Size: 3,389 square feet
Address: 22 Main Street
The Ellingen building, sometimes called “The Susie Q’s building,” is for sale for $299,900, said owner Loyd King. He said he might consider lower offers if they were serious.
King bought the building in 1980 and operated it as Susie Q’s laundromat for several years before switching it to an arcade.
Before King, the building was Harry’s Backdoor Bar owned by Harry Ellingen in the 1940s and then Whitey’s Cafe in the 1960s, he said.
By 1952, a second story was added to the building. King installed the pitched roof in the late-1980s or early-1990s, enclosing another 2,500 square feet upstairs that is almost entirely undeveloped.
The building has been on sale for the past three years, King said, and though he has received about a dozen offers, he wouldn’t consider any of them “serious.”
“It’s just like anything else. Everybody wants it but nobody wants to pay for it,” King said.
King wouldn’t rule out the possibility of renting, though.
“That’s another available avenue. It would just depend on who the people were and what they had in mind. I don’t want to lease it off and have to go winterize it again in three months,” he said.
The first floor of the building has more than 2,000 square feet of retail space divided into two storefronts, coin-operated showers, a two-bedroom apartment and a 441-square-foot attached garage. The second floor has an 1,150-square foot, two-bedroom apartment, and an equal-sized undeveloped space on the east side, beneath the pitched roof.
The two downstairs storefronts have seen their fair share of occupants over the years: a canoe-building business, the Tlingit Ink t-shirt printing business, a bait and tackle store, a beauty shop.
“It could be used for anything,” King said. “Office, retail sales. I was very successful with the laundromat, but I got tired of that.”
A buyer would almost certainly have to rent out portions of the gigantic, maze-like building to make the heating cost bearable, King said.
He or she would also need to finish the area beneath the pitched roof, King said.
The wiring has been redone, and King said he also replaced all of the sawdust insulation with fiberglass. “It’s a good building. It’s sound now and up to code,” he said.
The building is for sale through Bob Bolding of Keller Williams Realty in Anchorage.
ELKS LODGE BUILDING
Owner: Petersburg Elks Lodge
Asking Price: Assessed value
2013 Assessed Building Value: $139,200
2013 Assessed Land Value: $172,000
Building Size: 3,464 square feet
Address: 619 Main Street
When the Haines Elks Lodge closed in the spring of 2012, statewide Elks representative Mike Luhr of Petersburg said proceeds from the building’s sale would be placed in a five-year trust to be used in the event that another lodge opens in that time.
Unfortunately, the building remains vacant.
The two-story building dates back to the mid-1960s and sits on four lots. The Elks also own three nearby lots which include seven, full RV hookups.
The Elks Lodge was established on Dec. 23, 1981, with Tom Ward Sr. as grand exalted ruler and Karl Ward as secretary. Previous to the Elks, the building housed the Bills Club, a kind of Elks junior organization.
Luhr was reticent to answer questions about the building from the CVN. “I have offered the building and two lots to the borough for a couple of years at the borough assessed value,” Luhr said.
“The building and two lots are for sale to anyone for the assessed value determined by the Haines Borough,” he said.
However, the building isn’t listed anywhere, Luhr said, and it isn’t available to rent or put art in the windows.
Luhr said the building would make a good club or restaurant, but there might be a hitch. “Because of the proximity to the school it may not be able to obtain a liquor license again,” he said.
Luhr couldn’t comment on the cost of utilities for the building. “I am not qualified to address the heating cost aspect, but it is not a new building and there has been some deferred maintenance for a couple of years,” he said.
The Elks has had inquiries from Aspen Hotel and two nonprofits, he said. “We know Aspen went another route,” Luhr said.
One of those nonprofit inquiries was Chilkat Valley Preschool, which quickly determined the building was too expensive to buy and renovate, said president Renee Hoffman.
“They want regular market value for it and we can’t afford that,” Hoffman said.
Local realtor Jim Studley, who was a member of the lodge for 24 years, said the inside of the building is “totally gutted” right now.
“There is no kitchen. There is no bar. They took everything out,” Studley said.
The second floor of the building housed the organization’s office space, which is separated into three offices, a bathroom and a storage area.
The first floor contains the old kitchen area, the lodge hall, rest rooms and storage space.