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Sept. 26, 2020

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Downtown Vancouver’s Quinn rebuilt on ‘original bones’

Developer spends $6.5 million to remodel former J.C. Penney building

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:
6 Photos
The former Evergreen International Plaza building has been renamed The Quinn, following an extensive renovation project from Cascadia Development Partners. The building's new vertical marquee-style sign is a nod to the building's history as a J.C. Penney store.
The former Evergreen International Plaza building has been renamed The Quinn, following an extensive renovation project from Cascadia Development Partners. The building's new vertical marquee-style sign is a nod to the building's history as a J.C. Penney store. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

After spending several months hidden behind drop cloths and scaffolding, the former Evergreen International Plaza building in downtown Vancouver has re-emerged with an overhauled look and new name: The Quinn.

The modernized update comes courtesy of Vancouver-based Cascadia Development Partners, which began work on the $6.5 million renovation project in July 2019.

The three-story building at the corner of Main Street and Evergreen Boulevard dates back to the 1950s and served as the second downtown home for J.C. Penney until 1981. It was converted for office use and hosted a number of other businesses, but it was vacant for several years leading up to the renovation project.

Cascadia Development Partners opted to reconfigure the building for ground-floor retail use with offices on the levels above. That meant ditching the original recessed entrance area on Main Street in favor of direct entrances to each retail suite and a new lobby on the south side of the building to reach the upstairs offices.

“Our thing was to kind of take it back to the original bones of the building and really open it up,” said Scott Lindgren, director of real estate at Cascadia Development Partners.

The question of whether, and how, to renovate older commercial buildings is a common one in downtown Vancouver, where some of the older structures present significant challenges due to their advanced age and need to conform to modern seismic safety standards.

If a building requires extensive structural work, it can sometimes push up the price tag enough to raise the question of whether it would be better to start over. But that was never an issue for The Quinn, Lindgren said.

The internal structure features a lot of concrete and steel and was strong enough to be left largely untouched, he said. It also had the advantage of having good vertical transport options — even a freight elevator — due to its history as a department store.

There were some needed upgrades, such as a new HVAC system, but the renovations were primarily focused on replacing nearly all of the building’s original surfaces, such as the uniform gray of its original exterior.

“It was just dated,” Lindgren said.

One of the most visible changes both inside and out is the overall sense of height. The windows on the second and third floors have been replaced with counterparts that are roughly twice as tall (and can actually be opened, unlike their predecessors). The false ceilings on each floor — a relic of the department store days — have been removed.

Together, the changes allow for far more natural light than in the original building, Lindgren said, and the ceilings are high enough that office tenants can build 9-foot-tall interior walls while still leaving gaps at the top to allow light past.

The new lobby can be accessed from both the west and east sides of the building and includes restrooms, showers and a bike room for office tenants, along with a glass sculpture from local artist Andrew Lueck and, soon, a mural along the northern interior wall.

There were a few surprises during the remodel process, Lindgren said, including the discovery of an entire second wall behind the existing internal wall on the east side of the building. But the finished project sticks very close to the plan Cascadia Development Partners outlined when it announced the project in 2018.

The only major change during development was the elimination of underground parking. The team had envisioned converting the building’s basement into a garage, but Lindgren said the idea proved to be cost-prohibitive. Instead, the basement will be marketed as a quick move-in, shorter-term office space.

“There’s a need downtown for quick space,” he said.

Not counting the still-in-progress basement, The Quinn is already half occupied. Clash Beauty Collective has set up shop in one of the two retail suites, and event planning company Dynamic Events moved its headquarters from the Minnehaha area to the third floor of the building earlier this year.

The second floor is still empty and awaiting tenant improvements, but Lindgren points to the floor’s wall-to-wall open space as an example of how the renovated building will be a better fit for modern offices, which tend to favor open floor plans and less-rigid layouts. The idea is to give future tenants the maximum amount of creative freedom to design their spaces, he said.

“This was all cut up into tiny offices with little windows (before the project),” he said.

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