Gravitate changes plan for building

Digital marketing agency initially envisioned first floor of former Koplan's building as a small business incubator; now, it will house eatery, office space

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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New life is coming to a prime piece of downtown Vancouver street-front real estate, five years after it became vacant, according to the commercial real estate broker working to lease the former site of Koplan's Home Furnishings.

But the ground floor of 1012 Washington Street won't be quite the small-business incubator that Gravitate Design envisioned when the company bought the building in December 2011. Gravitate, a digital marketing agency, is headquartered on the second floor.

Gravitate Design President William Roskowski said by email that he expects to lease the northern third of the building to a restaurant, and the remaining space will likely be developed for office workers.

Construction is already under way to prepare the site, and Brian Sulliivan, leasing broker with Coldwell Banker Bain Commercial, said he has several restaurants interested in the site, though no contracts are in place yet.

The space is likely to lease for close to $20 per square foot, which Sullivan said he sees as evidence of downtown Vancouver's recovery from a long commercial real estate slump.

"There was a time when people came here for $1 a foot rent," he said. "Now, office space downtown ranges from $15 to $20, and we have lower supply. Downtown, there are two or three sizable spaces left. That's it."

As downtown Vancouver's commercial real estate market has been transformed in recent years, Gravitate has gone through substantial internal changes of its own.

When the company bought its current downtown headquarters building, it had just undergone a change in organizational structure. Two separate design and branding firms had merged, and both previous owners were still involved.

As they launched their $1 million renovation, owners Roskowski and Michael Parker spoke of turning the ground floor into an "incubator," a place where local startups could access inexpensive office space, help with strategy and growth, and other support. Parker has since left Gravitate's staff, and Roskowski remains as president.

Roskowski, who was on vacation and unavailable to talk by phone, provided via email a brief outline of his current plans for the ground floor, but did not answer questions about why the original incubator plan did not come together.

Beyond a restaurant, "The remainder of the space will most likely be a shared working space for individuals or businesses who need a desk, office, or shared space," Rowskowski said. "Not quite the incubator we thought of doing, but possibly a step in that direction."

Even without a ground-floor incubator space, Gravitate has followed through on its plans to nurture small businesses, said Lynn Elyse, account manager at the company.

"We have had some incubator clients, but they were located on the second floor with us," she said, citing Thursday Market — "like an Angie's List that uses your friends and network of friends to find service providers" — as a longtime incubator resident that recently moved out.

Given the state of downtown Vancouver's real estate market, broker Sullivan said Gravitate should be able to attract far more lucrative tenants than it initially expected. "With a high-tech firm upstairs, this is a high-profile listing. Now we need to find someone who will add value to the community."