Fisher Building back on the market
Possible uses don’t materialize for first potential buyer, triggering option letting developer out of purchase contract
Cheney’s nearly 84-year-old former high school and administration building is once again on the commercial real estate market.
Cheney developer Steve Emtman, who entered into a contract with the school district to purchase the Fisher Building this past August through a limited liability company, Save the Fisher LLC, has been released from the purchase agreement, putting the building built in 1929 back on the market. The purchase agreement gave Emtman 180 days to conduct investigations, inquiries and studies “to determine if the Property will be suitable for Buyer’s intended use.”
If those studies didn’t turn up any possible uses, Emtman had the option of being let out of the contract, which he received a couple weeks ago. Emtman said he looked at several options, one being the possibility of converting the Fisher Building into a hotel or community center, but couldn’t get other parties involved or find potential tenants for the building. He also said some of the rezoning needed for the uses were not as “cut and dry” as he thought.
“It’s in good shape, it’s just that it wasn’t going to work for my purposes,” Emtman said.
The Defender Development and Construction owner said he contacted several developers who work with older buildings such as the Fisher, and discussed options that would have kept local dollars home, but might be “a little too soon for Cheney.” He also felt the building could be a good draw for Eastern Washington University, located across Fifth Street from the Fisher, and is surprised the university isn’t considering anything.
The 57,128 square foot building on a 53,000 square foot lot size received an appraised sale price of $1.055 million last February from the firm of Auble, Jolicoeur & Gentry. The central attraction of the building is a 300-seat auditorium, but it also has an interior gym and 12-foot high ceilings in the former classrooms, which were modified as office spaces when it served as the school district’s administration building until last summer.
The appraisal notes the surrounding area is zoned high density residential and is also in a “Membership Lodging Special Overlay District” with permitted uses ranging from single-family residential to commercial “including banks, retail, theaters, motels and restaurants.” It’s located in the Cheney Historical District, a status that could provide a prospective developer financial incentives and assistance in keeping the building’s exterior in original condition.
But Auble, Jolicoeur & Gentry also termed the building a “a mixed bag” architecturally, efficient and functional in some ways and “awkward” and “borderline obsolete” in others. The Fisher Building was built as a school, and while structurally sound, portions of the interior, especially the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, are in need of repair if not complete overhauls.
Based on a small, but similar sized building in Sandpoint, Auble, Jolicoeur & Gentry estimated a renovation cost upwards of $5.76 million.
NAI Black Realtor Mitch Swenson said having the appraisal means there are “no secrets” when it comes to the Fisher Building. Swenson said they are listing it through a variety of venues, including NAI’s national site, the Commercial Brokers Association website and a site called “Loop Net.” They are talking to anyone who might have interests and abilities in the type of renovation the Fisher represents.
“We’re turning over every rock we can,” Swenson said. “We need to talk to people who might be in the market for something (like this).”
For Swenson it’s somewhat of an emotional issue – he attended middle school at Fisher. When he took over the listing he contacted former classmates about its sale and received numerous emails about their Fisher memories in return. The building represents a challenge in many ways, however, and, while he said he’s had a couple showings already, the Fisher could be on the market for a while before a prospective buyer steps forward.
And Emtman said that in time he might be able to take another look at potential uses for the building, once some of his other projects are finally realized.
“I don’t think there’s any chance someone is going to tear it down,” he said. “Somebody will come along and make that thing work.”