Sparks building transforming

Former home furnishings store is Hurley's newest renovation project downtown

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

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As developer Ryan Hurley walked through his latest downtown Vancouver acquisition on a recent July morning, he spoke of a vision beyond the gutted former home of Sparks Home Furnishings.

“This building has great bones,” he said, while workers in hard hats yanked aging insulation from the rafters and dropped it in dirty mounds on the naked concrete below. “It’s pedestrian friendly; the new library has given us a connection to the park. This area of downtown used to be dingy. We want it to come alive.”

Halfway through its remodeling project, the 40,000-square-foot store that for more than 50 years sold loveseats, patio sets and armoires has been stripped of its finishing and fixtures. Dimly lit, it looks closer to “dingy” than “alive.”

But those who’ve watched Hurley remodel four previous downtown buildings in less than five years say they have faith in the vision he’s bringing to the city block between Broadway and C Street along Evergreen Boulevard.

“There’s been a huge change downtown in the past five years. People are excited to be here,” said Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “Ryan Hurley has been one of the biggest forces behind that change.”

As Hurley has gutted and reinvented buildings in the city center, he’s also helped a broader effort by the downtown community to reinvent itself, Rafferty said.

Hurley expects the remodeled Sparks building to open in mid-October, with new windows punched through several brick walls, additional entryways, and the bustling foot traffic of a high-end coffee shop and a busy engineering firm. He estimated the combined purchase and renovation cost will be about $3.5 million. Torque Coffee Roasters has signed a lease for a street-facing spot in the structure, and Olson Engineering is moving workers from two separate locations into this single new headquarters.

That leaves about 6,000 square feet unleased — room for one or two more office or retail tenants, Hurley said.

The three downtown building investments he still owns, meanwhile, are fully leased, he said. The former Koplan’s Home Furnishings building, at 1012 Washington St., has housed creative agency Gravitate Design since 2011. App design firm Woobox moved into his renovated 808 Main St. property in April. And the building formerly known as Pacific Tower, at 915 Broadway, sports a fresh coat of paint, upgraded lobbies, and new landscaping at its outdoor plaza.

An earlier project, The Source Climbing Gym at 1118 Main St., is now owned by the rock-climbing company that occupies it.

Hurley learned the ins and outs of developing property as a project manager for Vancouver-based Hinton Development Corp., then founded Hurley Development in 2008 when he went out on his own.

“I’m not doing this to get rich, or I could sell off these buildings to investors,” Hurley said. “We’re excited about being part of what’s happening in this community. Vancouver still feels like a small community, people are connected, and we want to keep that.”

Hurley’s vision and enthusiasm for downtown Vancouver arrived at just the right moment, said Rafferty at the downtown association. Herself a former business owner, Rafferty and her partner closed the Spanky’s second-hand clothing store in 2008 as the recession wreaked havoc on retailers in the city center. They later sold the business.

Since taking the helm of Vancouver’s Downtown Association, Rafferty and others within the district have acted as cheerleaders for the area and have advocated for changes aimed at making the streets more appealing to pedestrians. Potted plants and sidewalk restaurant seating now proliferate downtown. Years after galleries began to make a mark in the neighborhood, this April the Vancouver City Council designated an arts district that recognizes their importance. And rents and occupancy rates appear to be climbing, Rafferty said.

But it’s hard to understate the role that Hurley played as one of a handful of developers who saw Vancouver’s potential during the depths of the Great Recession, Rafferty said.

“Ryan’s smart, and he started buying property” she said. “People said, ‘Whoa, if he is doing it, maybe I should be doing it, too.’ They saw that he was successful, and that encouraged him to take that leap. People started to say, ‘Hey, we are in a desirable place. We do have a good future.’ Downtown had such a rough go if it since the ’70s, and it was once again relevant to the ways people want to live their lives.”

For Vancouver’s downtown to be truly relevant, Hurley says, the city core needs more food options: a grocery store, restaurants, places for daytime workers and nighttime residents to fuel up. Beyond Torque Coffee, it’s not clear if he’ll have the opportunity to do much to address that need.

Hurley said he’s in talks to acquire one more property, and that will mark an end to his big projects in downtown Vancouver. No contracts have been signed and a deal is not done, he said, declining to say more. He does intend to continue owning, maintaining — and possibly making further upgrades — to the properties he already holds.

“We’ve been blessed to bring to fruition the projects we’ve already identified and to have them be what, I feel, is successful,” he said. “The city is still in her adolescence, with a lot of potential. I want to be a part of seeing the city as it grows.”