It was more than five years ago when Ralph Sletager, owner of Waterfront Property Management, jump-started downtown revitalization in Sandpoint. In 1996, he completed a massive renovation of The Old Power House, turning a former steam-powered electricity plant into commercial space for retail stores, offices and a restaurant.
Slowly but surely, in the years since, a few businesses have followed Sletagers lead in re-shaping the face of downtown. Jalapeños, a Mexican restaurant popular amongst locals and tourists alike, helped to lead that charge in 2000 when owners Chet and Shari French, along with local appraiser Larry Brewer, purchased the former Elks Lodge on Second Avenue. They unveiled their results in a building that combines office space some opening off a basement-level courtyard with an expanded restaurant that offers street-side dining, a faux skylight and an indoor waterfall crafted from copper.
Just across the street, Don Abellas, formerly Willas Hair Design, chose to embrace the revitalization spirit by expanding their space and transforming into a day spa and salon. Occupying the north end of the McFarland Building, Don Abellas announced the expansion and remodel with a hand-painted mural by local artists Maria Larson and Nan Cooper. The Pompeian-inspired art begins on the street and is carried through the entire space, now decked out in custom tile.
I wanted this to be something people could afford, said Donata Don, co-owner of Don Abellas with her mother, Peggy. Ive waited tables, worked construction, been an office manager, and I could never afford to participate in something like this, so we adjusted our prices to make this affordable.
This is 1,700 square feet of pampering European facials, massage therapy, body wraps and treatments, mud baths, body salt scrubs, hydrotherapy, and, of course, traditional salon services. This is about the simple things that we all, and especially women, rarely take time for, said Don. We believe in beauty from the inside out.
Just down the street, the old library, which was the old post office before that, came to the attention of Roger Jones of California, who purchased the local landmark and began an extensive remodel, retaining the character by using the original blueprints from 1927. Opened in September 2001, it is now home to Old Library Antiques, a fitting role for a building that features hardwood floors and period lighting. Dealer space in Phase I is filling rapidly, and the owners are taking reservations for Phases II and III. A coffee shop is planned for the downstairs floors as well.
Meantime, Ivanos, a longtime, popular Italian restaurant, moved to the corner of Pine and First streets, the southern gateway to downtown. Jim and Pam Lippi, Barney and Carol Ballard, and chef Carl Agazzi had ambitious plans that built on their previous successes with serving the public. That plan came to fruition with its opening last summer inside the Vintage Court, a three-story building rising above downtown.
Downstairs is Ivanos Ristorante, including areas for a deli, bakery and take-out. The two wings embrace a central courtyard that overlooks the street. With cars rushing past the low, brick wall that encircles the courtyard, customers look as if theyre relaxing at a restaurant in Europe. All thats needed to complete the picture are hordes of people on the sidewalk. The restaurant, which seats 75, has been enthusiastically embraced by the public, probably for the same reasons the previous Ivanos, as well as the Beachhouse Restaurant, another venture of the partnership, did.
We keep it simple, Lippi explained. We use the best ingredients we can and cook it well. We want people to feel like theyve gone over to somebodys house for dinner. We try to keep a homemade feel.
The second floor of the building is home to offices, while the third floor houses three condos, a building plan that again embraces a European custom, yet seems right at home in Sandpoint.
Some downtown businesses are expanding by going upward to Schweitzers new White Pine Lodge, according to Base Area Services Director Deanna Harris. The White Pine project, itself an innovative commercial development (see Summer 2001 Sandpoint Magazine) will open its ground floor with six commercial spaces just before Christmas. Finan McDonald Clothing Company, Wine Sellers and Spuds restaurant businesses that already exist downtown will join Snowy Mountain Gifts, Alpen Glow Deli and Ice Cream, and a real estate office.
Meanwhile, the City of Sandpoint expanded upon a project begun by Sletager, a boardwalk at Sandpoint Marina, by securing a grant and easements to build close to 500 feet of boardwalk following Sand Creek from the marina to Bridge Street. Right above that boardwalk is another example of the investment people are making in downtown; the Sand Creek Center.
A partnership between Gloria Waterhouse and Jan Ekstrom, the Sand Creek Center is the result of transforming two long-time structures, the old Spokesman-Review building and, right next to it, what was at one time the offices of the Pend Oreille Review. With the brand-new Vintage Court just across the street, the Sand Creek Center renovation combines to create an impressive southern entryway to downtown.
The Center includes offices for Janek Co., a regional real estate company; the Gallery at Sand Creek; and Diamond Charters. The spot that was known for many years to locals as Bugattis Pub is now the Sand Creek Grill. Upstairs, the massive renovation resulted in The Inn at Sand Creek, a bed-and-breakfast type establishment featuring three upscale suites and a spa in the 1906 building. Waterhouse characterizes the restaurant as fine food in a relaxed atmosphere, adding that her chef calls their offerings French food with an Asian influence.
The courtyard between the two buildings has attracted wedding parties and, frequently, local musicians during the summer season. It leads back to a hot tub overlooking Sand Creek and the decidedly upscale deck and backyard dining area for the Grill. The atmosphere gives the impression of a private living space instead of commercial. Nestled right into downtown Sandpoint, the Sand Creek Center lives up its slogan of creating joy and inspiration.
Theres been an infusion of hope and new energy (into downtown), Waterhouse said, and the new developments certainly lead one to look forward to what the future has in store for this little town by the big lake.
Marketwatch: Indicators moving up
August brought some big changes to the local real estate market after a year that Bill Lewis, director of the Bonner County Association of Realtors (BCAR), characterized as down in volume, but still not looking bad.
In those hot days of August, however, true dog days with temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, something changed. The sweet sounds from the Festival at Sandpoint floated through the air; crowds of people filled up City Beach for POACs annual Arts and Crafts Fair; and thousands more descended on the fairgrounds for the Bonner County Fair. And in between the entertainment, people bought property in a way that is seldom seen in Sandpoint; very, very quickly.
Our average days on the market (DOM) last month was 32, Lewis said in September. And if he looked a bit gleeful, thats understandable in an area where, for years, the DOM for a piece of property was closer to one year than to one month. I am real encouraged by the market times, he added.
Overall records kept by BCAR in 2001 showed a trend toward properties spending less time on the market. The DOM was 126 days, down from 2000s 184 days, and down even more from 310 in 1999. What that means is properties are priced right, Lewis said.
In the first seven months of the year, market sales totaled $63 million. That included 606 properties in the category single-family, in town. Lewis says thats the prime area where sales are occurring. Were not selling the high-end stuff, he said. After a quick look through his printouts, he added, Im not seeing a single million-dollar sale. The average sale price, year to date, for the entire county was $104,280. East of Bonner County, in the Hope/Clark Fork area, that average sales price jumped to $142,670, compared to $138,000 within Sandpoint.
Commercial sales are still stagnant, a situation that has been in place for many years. BCAR is now working with the areas Economic Development Council to provide figures and information on the local market that can be provided to prospective businesses that might choose to relocate to this area.
Low interest rates have helped to fuel the market lately, and events elsewhere in the country are likely to make an impact on sales in the months to come, as folks decide that now is the time to make the move to a more rural way of life.
Still, Lewis is looking forward to an improved fall and winter. The market times are very positive, he said. Even the 126 (days) year-to-date is really good. The number of properties for sale indicates its still a buyers market, but for properly priced property, its becoming very competitive for a buyer. Now is the time for sellers to price their property realistically.
Hidden Lakes in transition to year-round resort status
Tucked away in the wetlands east of Sandpoint, where the Pack River flows into Lake Pend Oreille, Hidden Lakes Golf Resort is quietly going about the business of creating what co-owner Dick Villelli calls, a world-class getaway.
Stage one of that project was accomplished early last summer, when the resort unveiled its massive new clubhouse, a redesigned course, and what they call, a broad range of real estate opportunities.
So far, those offerings have been limited to a planned-unit development of 171 residential lots within 244 acres of the development, but spring of 2002 is the target date for beginning a new dimension to the real estate scene at Hidden Lakes.
Were making the golf happen, and were having an enormous amount of inquiries regarding lodging, explained Villelli, who owns the resort in partnership with his brother, Tom, and friends Nick Russo and Mike Patano. Right now, were having to turn them away. During the top of the season, he added, so is Sandpoint.
That will change by next August, when Hidden Lakes has scheduled for completion the second phase of their project, developing a 36-unit condominium Cottonwood Lodge. Hidden Lakes isnt just another golf course, Villelli says, and this wont be just another condominium, either. Were going to have a world-class condo project just like we have a world-class golf course, he said.
Joe Kordsmeier, who started the Hyatt Hotel chain and helped to start the Ritz-Carlton, is a consultant on Cottonwood Lodge; units will be 1,800 square feet, comprising three lock-off suites. The log buildings will offer decks or patios, hot tubs, wet bars and atrium skylights, along with room service, concierge service, and free shuttles between Spokane International Airport, downtown Sandpoint, and nearby Schweitzer Mountain. Winter developments at the golf course will add cross-country skiing, horse wagon rides and ice skating.
As for the condominiums, Villelli said, Our design allows owners to separate the suites, and Hidden Lakes will offer property management services for those owners who want to place their units on the rental market.
With prices starting in the upper $300,000 range, Villelli says the rental provisions make a condo at Hidden Lakes, not only a fun recreation destination, but a smart investment, too.