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Developers to Watch 

by Ted S. McGregor Jr., Kevin Taylor and Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & lot of the times when we write about developers, it's because somebody has a complaint -- usually about wetlands or traffic or just running up the price of real estate in general. This is the way growth gets covered. It's a fight. For Business Guide 2006, we're taking a few steps back to get a closer look at the people behind the projects you see sprouting up all over the region.


There are a lot of folks who work in this field, and of course we're only able to scratch the surface here with our short list. A few years back, for example, Betsy Cowles would have been on the list for spearheading River Park Square, which -- whatever you may think about it -- has been a catalyst for downtown Spokane. And she's one of the few women in the game; as you'll see, this is a club filled with white men.


Then there's a tycoon like Harlan Douglass, who with his sons Harley and Lancze has all kinds of projects in the works, including that controversial Wal-Mart up on South Regal Street.


And the real estate gamut runs all the way down to they guy who buys houses at a foreclosure auction, who works after his his real job at night to fix them up and then turns around and sells them -- something several of the people in these pages did at one time or another.


So now that you've read about Marshall Chesrown and his Kendall Yards project, you can get to know some of the other movers and shakers who make the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area what it is today -- and what it will be in the future. -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.





Walt Worthy & r & Walt Worthy's vision has taken him a long way. From flipping houses with his wife just after settling in Spokane after an Air Force career to becoming an office space baron ("Walt Worthy has square feet"), he has generally relied upon his own judgment to guide his business decisions. "You don't want to get your neck sticking out too far," he says of the real estate business. "If you start gambling, sooner or later, bad luck will catch up to you."


When he rescued the Davenport Hotel from the wrecking ball in 1999, he says 98 percent of Spokane was certain that he was gambling and that he would lose and be broke by now.


"That didn't happen," he chuckles. "And we're liking the hotel business just fine."


In fact, he likes it so much, he's adding 320 more rooms to the Davenport complex, across First Avenue from the grand old Kirtland Cutter-designed masterpiece. He aims to have them done in time for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which will come to Spokane starting Jan. 21, 2007. The Davenport is the headquarters for the event, which is expected to bring in ... "a lot of people, is all I know," says Worthy.


Worthy says the thinking is that the hotel, with 30,000 square feet of meeting space, can support larger meetings, and therefore more guest suites. They'll also be adding another 10,000 square feet of meeting space in the new building, which will match the style of the new Pennington end of the existing hotel.


As for office space, Worthy recently sold his office complexes on North Washington Street to investors from Tacoma at a price that had locals doing double-takes, but he is still looking for tenants in the Wells Fargo Building, formerly home to Met Mortgage. Beyond that, he's focusing on the Davenport expansion -- and he's enjoying the success.


"It's been a lot of fun," says Worthy in his North Carolina drawl. "I get to work with a lot of great new young people. Having the right people is the key. If you don't have the right people, it's tough. But we have a great staff here." -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.





Ralph Sletager & r & Ralph Sletager was born in Sandpoint, as was his dad. Even though he's a developer now, Sletager can be as surprised as anyone to see the sleepy city he knew described in breathless prose as the Next Great Place.


He knew it back when ... when he had to leave to find work after college. "When you're working seven 12s as a cab driver in Anchorage you have plenty of time to think about economic opportunities in your hometown -- as in, it would have been nice to have some," Sletager says.


His mid-1970s trip north to work on the Alaska pipeline has informed Sletager's views of Lake Pend Oreille: It has a rugged beauty, a wide array of recreation, and the people who stuck it out through the lean times shouldn't get squeezed out in the good times.


He remembers sitting in the waterfront Sheffield House in Valdez, Alaska, just able to afford coffee, but "I got the same view as the guy in the million-dollar suit did." Sletager includes some component -- restaurant, trail, park or plaza -- in his projects where the suits and the coffee-nursers can share the view.


Sletager started out renovating and selling fixer-uppers; he is now doing marinas, condos and other waterfront developments. His first was the renovation of the old power plant -- the Power House -- at the south end of Sandpoint.


His latest -- Dover Bay, on the site of an old lumber mill where he once worked -- had locals up in arms, fearing they'd be walled off from the lakefront by newcomers in giant mansions.


"One of my personal goals in business is to provide more access to everyone to water," Sletager says. Even though Idaho has no public watchdog agency with real teeth, Sletager has set aside nearly 3,000 feet of waterfront for a public beach and reduced the number of houses slated to go atop a bluff, creating a four-acre park at the summit connected by trails to the water and other Sandpoint-area trails.


"There was a choice: Do you make an exclusive gated community or an inclusive community?" he asks. "We chose inclusive. About 70 percent of waterfront on Lake Pend Oreille is federal, state or it's privately owned, so public access is an issue.


"When I was a kid and got done haying, I went to the beach. So I know that value to the community," Sletager says. And he sees "more people with better jobs, and I see maybe a lower turnover of businesses in town. We had a kid in the Olympics. Coldwater Creek started here." -- Kevin Taylor





Duane Hagadone & r & Although not primarily a real estate developer, Duane Hagadone is probably responsible for tossing the first snowball that became the avalanche of growth North Idaho has been experiencing in recent years.


On May 5, the Coeur d'Alene Resort will celebrate 20 years, and Hagadone still can't stop telling everyone about the article in Forbes that greeted his new resort: "'Hagadone built a white elephant in the middle of nowhere,'" he chuckles from his winter home in Palm Desert, Calif. "Over those 20 years, we've only hosted 3.7 million guests, who spent just under $2 billion here."


No word on whether he's inviting Forbes out for a follow-up, but to celebrate, he's gutting all the rooms in the main tower and replacing them with up-to-the-minute luxury suites, featuring granite everything and plasma TVs. Also inside the hotel, they'll add what they hope will become one of the top 10 spas in the nation.


Hagadone grew up in Coeur d'Alene, and he's seen the ups and the downs that used to come with heavy dependence on resource-extraction industries. For years, he's preached the wisdom of turning the lake into a tourist destination, and with his Floating Green, he created a postcard that's been mailed around the world.


"The tourism's been fine," he says, "but nobody expected the huge influx of people moving to North Idaho. The construction industry is absolutely red-hot in all of North Idaho -- probably too hot."


Hagadone says Kootenai County is the fourth-fastest growing county in the nation, percentage-wise; there were somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 homes built in Kootenai County in 2005. Hagadone, who controls some 60 companies (including 17 newspapers) from his Coeur d'Alene headquarters, remains staunchly pro-growth and anti-tax, but he is proud of the progress his hometown has made in providing the kinds of amenities vital regions must have to compete.


"In the 1980s, there were no accredited schools here, and now it's one of the finest systems in the country," he says. "They're getting ready to float another bond issue. One of the exciting things to me is our youth -- they couldn't come home back then, because there was no work. Now they can come home."


After dropping his plans for an elaborate garden in downtown Coeur d'Alene due to public opposition, Hagadone's other big real estate development is the Terraces, a 30-unit luxury condo project overlooking the Coeur d'Alene Resort Golf Course. Set to open in July 2007, they pre-sold $80 million worth of condos last July and August alone. There are only 10 units left for sale.


At 73, Hagadone says he's not slowing down yet: "I tell people that if I quit, in six months I'd be divorced, and in a year I'd be dead, and neither are high on my priority list."


In fact, he cut short his round-the-world-by-yacht retirement, sold the vessel and got back to work. Now he's building a home in Palm Desert, and he spends summers in Coeur d'Alene, watching as the next generation takes the reins of the Hagadone machine.


And he feels pretty good about how far the Lake City has come -- even if Forbes thinks it's in the middle of nowhere. He says it helps that boosting Coeur d'Alene has become a lot less lonely in recent years, as Marshall Chesrown and John Stone have brought new projects to life.


"Finally I've got some other people in here spending some money besides myself," Hagadone says. "I love it." -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.





John Stone & r & For a long time, John Stone was the most successful local developer who had no projects underway in the Inland Northwest. With headquarters in Spokane, he built everything from condos to retirement homes in places like San Diego and Las Vegas. In recent years, however, Stone's work is on display at the Riverstone development along Northwest Boulevard in Coeur d'Alene.


His firm is now called SRM Development, reflecting the next generation taking over, including his son, Bryan Stone, along with Jim Rivard and Dee McGonigle. SRM is currently looking at plans for 14 more buildings at Riverstone, and they'll break ground soon on a new public park along the Spokane River, featuring a pond.


"That will be a real important amenity for Coeur d'Alene and Riverstone," says Stone. "It will be as cherished as the pond in Manito Park is."


Riverstone is shaping up as a preview of what Marshall Chesrown has in mind for Kendall Yards in Spokane, with office space, retail and housing. There will ultimately be two spurs of the Centennial Trail through Riverstone, creating connections to downtown Coeur d'Alene.


"We're looking at this as a lifestyle," says Stone. "We want to deemphasize the automobile and emphasize the ability to walk to the theater, to restaurants, over to the college."


Rivard adds that SRM is taking a closer look at opportunities in Spokane, too. They already have an option on the YWCA site, and they plan to build condos there when the facility relocates in a couple years. They're also watching the University District on the east end of downtown Spokane.


Stone, who has been a critic of Spokane politics over the years, says his hometown is evolving for the better. "There's certainly a spirit to try to change things now," says Stone. "The old model where somebody figures out an idea and everybody else is supposed to clap until it gets done... we need to vet those things as a community. And if it doesn't make sense, then it doesn't make sense."


With the younger guys doing the heavy lifting, Stone has been devoting time to volunteering in the effort to bring a research institute to life in Spokane, the Institute for Systems Medicine.


"It's the first time that we've tied a ribbon around education and medicine and have them working together," he says. "We've got some state funding and some county funding. I see this as a real opportunity and a new direction." -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.





Rob Brewster & r & "I had driven across the country and drove through Cleveland and noticed how they converted from a ghetto to a vibrant downtown area," Rob Brewster tells The Inlander from San Francisco, where he's in meetings to discuss a high-end hotel he's building in Seattle. "I thought Spokane had similar buildings and layout. It certainly could be that or better."


Call him an optimist, call him a rabble-rouser, but the 36-year-old Lewis and Clark High School graduate has made a definitive mark on Spokane in the 15 years since he bought his first piece of real estate, near Gonzaga, at age 21.


Now the president of Spokane's ConoverBond Development -- which has done the Montvale Hotel, Hutton Building and Cheney's Brewster Hall, among others -- Brewster left home to attend the University of Washington and Santa Clara University, in California, and to pursue real estate development in Washington, D.C., where he renovated townhouses and built 11 condominiums.


But remembering what he saw in Cleveland, he returned home in 1999. "I recognized that there was a lot of opportunity [in Spokane]," he says. There was also a lot of red tape.





Where else would you live? Who's doing it right?


"About every other city other than Spokane. I just don't think Spokane's doing a very good job. I think that the city just doesn't get it yet. They need to speed up the permit process, and they need to not stand in the way of progress. Cities like Boise and Portland and Seattle really understand economic development and real estate development. You don't see skyscrapers going up in Spokane. Interestingly enough, you do in Seattle and Portland. [Spokane has] great bones and great people but terrible leadership."





What building or development has inspired you?


"Probably the biggest has been the Pearl District [in Portland]. It's a great example of how a city can work with developers and retailers and business to pull off an amazing rehabilitation of an area that otherwise would've been an environmental nightmare. And it's vibrant. More than anything you see in Seattle or San Francisco."





Favorite current projects?


"We're renovating the Arctic Hotel in Seattle. It's a 10-story building ... used by the city for many years. We're also working on a new apartment building in downtown Spokane ... [but] I don't think I'm ready to announce that yet." -- Joel Smith





Mick McDowell & r & Mick McDowell's been raising eyebrows in Spokane lately for a proposed 52-unit, 17-story condo tower on West Riverside Avenue that Peaceful Valley residents fear will impinge on their quiet neighborhood. But the ritzy high-rise project is hardly representative of the work McDowell's done in Spokane since 1975, when he bought his first building -- the run-down, 18-unit Patrician.


A native of Great Falls, Mont., and an alumnus of Gonzaga University, McDowell had fallen into a job maintaining buildings for a few local real estate brokers but soon decided it was the brokers' jobs he wanted. He bought the Patrician -- at 102 E. Second Ave. -- for $89,000. That year, he also signed on with the Spokane Fire Department, a gig he held for the next 21 years.


McDowell worked one day with the department, then two days building his career as a developer. He scooped up decaying buildings and refurbished them to create "entry-level housing, or 'housing of last resort,' depending who you're talking to." In the late 1990s, he set to work on the corner of Third Avenue and Browne Street, renovating the Brownstone and Trans-Nation buildings and Hope House. He prides himself on having installed sprinklers and elevators in the old buildings, measures he believes will give them added years of life, but which few other developers would take the time for.


Today, McDowell has given up on old buildings, he says, and has become "enamored with new ones." Like the Riverside high-rise project. Or the convention center -- McDowell's on the board of Spokane's Public Facilities District, the organization in charge of the burgeoning center.





What building or development has inspired you?


"Besides my own? The Davenport. A real close second: Steve Schmautz earned his way to developers' heaven by putting that roof line back on the [American] Legion Building. His style and grace ... he knew that needed to be done, and he did it."





Where else would you live? Who's doing it right?


"I'm such a homebody. I find the architecture of the Portland area, and certainly the Seattle area, inspirational in terms of my condo projects, but I truly wouldn't live there. Growing up in Montana and being here for 30 years -- why on earth would I go over to that traffic? It's not an option."





Favorite current projects?


"The AmericanWest bank building, completed a year and a half ago. Also, we have a fairly large condo project on Riverside." -- Joel Smith





Don Barbieri & r & "Our family has been involved in shaping downtown, literally, for generations," says Don Barbieri, whose great-grandfather arrived in Spokane in 1889, just after the catastrophic fire that destroyed much of the city. As a carpenter experienced in millwork (who could build doors and windows), Alexander Tillisch helped rebuild downtown and, three generations later, the family is still at it.


Spokane, at its core, isn't much different than the city that provided banking, shipping and other services to the farmers, foresters and miners of 125 years ago. It's still the center for big-scale services such as health care and air transportation for a vast area, Barbieri says, and is still an important part of the fabric of the region.


"If cash registers aren't ringing in the rural communities, they aren't ringing in Spokane," he says. "Downtown can be the vibrant heart of the Inland Northwest. If you have a vibrant heart, you can help the region thrive."


More than just regional economies need to be integrated, Barbieri says. It makes no sense to build an upscale development along a polluted river, for instance. Barbieri says developers need to be involved with "good fish habitat and kids swimming and confronting mine waste and using the best technologies on sewage removal and phosphates."


It's all connected, he says. "We try to force the environmental community into one box and developers into another box -- we need to start with voices from all backdrops. In my view, it's critical we do it, or we'll end up as just another sprawly place."


He cites company projects such as the Broadview Dairy, the River Inn and the River Park housing across the Spokane River from Gonzaga University as examples of development that revitalized formerly thrashed railroad and industrial areas. All fit Barbieri's goal of spaces that are in the urban village concept.


"My career and my family's before me is based on making downtown vibrant. We've also built a significant portion of affordable housing in downtown Spokane," Barbieri says. "People can't see downtown as only for the poor or only for the wealthy."


A healthy downtown -- and by extension a healthy region -- needs a mix of incomes and jobs, an awareness of the rivers and landforms that make it special and developments where being in scale is more important than being upscale, he says.





Favorite Building/Development:


"The Mall in Washington, D.C., because it's a portrait of our history, and it's constantly adding new paintings, new museums -- they just added a new Indian museum, and a Latin American building and the war memorials. But its backdrop is a height-controlled cityscape respectful of the stature and scale of buildings."





Current Project:


His company's Upper Falls condominiums, next to the Flour Mill.





Most Livable City Outside Spokane/CdA:


"Portland, Oregon. I think Spokane is a baby Portland."


-- Kevin Taylor





Ron Wells & r & It's hard to find housing in downtown Spokane that doesn't have Ron Wells' name on it. The North Carolina native, who at one time or another has sat in on or led every community-minded organization from the Downtown Spokane Partnership to the Historic Landmarks Commission, estimates he and his wife Julie have worked on 50 projects in the area over the last 20 years. Expensive, ground-up projects like the ritzy Riverside Court Townhouses or the upcoming Carnegie Square Townhouses. Renovated historic rental properties like the Edwidge, Buena Vista and Kempis buildings. Wells is the landlord for hundreds, if not thousands, of Spokanites.


Before moving to the Lilac City, though, he was just a lowly English major at North Carolina State University. After earning his master's degree in architecture, he took a job as the University of Idaho's director of community development. It was in Moscow and Lewiston that he first began buying up and renovating old buildings, a pursuit he kept up after moving to Spokane in 1983.


"You can't replace the history and the charm [of an old building]," he says. "It's easier to resurrect beautiful historical architecture character that's right there to be preserved."





What building or development has inspired you?


"I think one of the early inspirations I had about residential condos was Trump Tower -- interestingly enough, since it was a glittery new building. It was done at an interesting time during New York's renaissance. It was a very celebrated example of a demand in New York City for living in a fabulous location in a downtown and creating something monumental."





Where else would you live? Who's doing it right?


"Portland's done a great job with the Pearl District, in terms of condominiums. Lower downtown Denver is an inspiration. Seattle's a great place to learn some things, but the traffic is just hideous. I don't think there's anywhere better to live than here. If there was another city I'd want to live in, I'd leave."





Favorite current projects?


"I'm excited about the fact that we're doing four downtown housing projects [at once]. I wouldn't pick any one as my favorite. The most exciting thing is there's truly a wave of interest that everybody hoped and thought would happen. I think a lot of people were real skeptical." -- Joel Smith





Condron Homes & r & The Web site for Condron Homes is riddled with aw-shucks platitudes and happy turns of phrase. A column down the right-hand side reads, "We didn't try to be No. 1 -- it just happened," and "Service is our top priority. True quality is in the details." Craig Condron writes, "A handshake is as good as any legal document with Condron Construction. When I commit to something, that's it."


Sounds goofy, but it's the kind of honest, can-do attitude that's made converts of customers, who praise the company's integrity and close customer service. That's typical of a family-run business. The company was begun by Darrell Condron in the late 1960s in Spokane. In 1976, Darrell's son, Craig, took over and changed the name to Condron Construction (it's now Condron Homes). Throughout Spokane today, they have seven housing developments, which range in size from 300 to 1,500 homes, and that run from $170,000 to $400,000. They've become one of the busiest homebuilding firms in the region.


Vice President Corey Condron (Craig's son, and a third-generation homebuilder) says the company's focus is on empty-nesters and scaling-down families. "We're about building quality products," he says. "We work with customers real close, doing everything we can to meet their needs. We're a real flexible company." -- Joel Smith





Viking Construction & r & The development boom in this area has its share of big dogs -- the Chesrowns or Douglasses or Wells -- but when you get right down to hammers and nails, Viking Construction of Hayden, Idaho, is the tail that wags the big dog.


Viking projects may never make magazine covers -- its work is never demonized as destroying the earth, nor is it praised as an economic savior.


Yet day in and day out for a quarter century, Viking has built the sorts of homes most of us live in. And lots of them.


"We don't do a lot of customs. We build mostly tract homes," says Ryan Olson, marketing director and son of Viking founder Wendell Olson.


Viking had its best year ever in 2005, selling 420 new houses. This year is expected to be nearly as good, with Coeur d'Alene still riding the housing bubble, Olson says.


"Two years ago, we sold 240 homes, so it's been a huge jump," Olson says. The pace has been stressful at times, he says, trying to keep up with materials and good-quality subcontractors.


Viking has found its niche: "We try to give the best quality home to the most people -- a nice home that's affordable," Olson says. That means $170,000 for a starter, or $225,000 for a "move-up" home. -- Kevin Taylor





Sullivan Homes & r & We hardly even need to mention Sullivan Homes, what with all the free publicity it's gotten since November, when camera crews from ABC descended on Sandpoint and picked the Spokane Valley-based company to build them a dream abode for their Extreme Makeover: Home Edition show. But there's good reason that ABC chose Sullivan Homes. The two-generation-old company, which focuses on land development, urban and architectural design and something called "neighborhood association management," has long since built a reputation for itself in the area, with 18 development and building sites now up and running from Spokane to Sandpoint.


Founded by Jim Sullivan (who also owns Sullivan-Rowell Homes in the Tri-Cities), the company offers homes that range in price from $180,000 to a million dollars and, reps say, have a distinct Craftsman style. Asked what was unique about the company, sales and marketing director Mark Montgomery says, "Our look. Our design. I've had inspectors and appraisers say they can easily pick out our houses, our design." He says they build "well-proportioned houses" with a Northwestern feel -- timbers on the exterior, a lot of masonry.


"It's hard right now for a lot of locals to purchase a home because the prices have gone up so high so fast," Montgomery says. "[But] we strive to provide a quality product at a very competitive price." -- Joel Smith





Greenstone Corporations & r & Best known for its work at Liberty Lake, Greenstone continues to build with a master plan in mind. That means integrating common areas, biking trails and retail "town centers" into their housing developments. Greenstone President Jason Wheaton says one of their latest projects, Adirondack Village on South Regal, is taking shape, with retail coming on line to complement the mix of apartments and single-family housing. The new Twigs restaurant there will even have a deck looking out on what's being dubbed Regal Pond.


Master planning "has been real successful," says Wheaton. "I think we've raised the standard, and it's translated into positive places to live."


Greenstone is currently working with Centennial Properties to develop land between I-90 and the Spokane River, north of Liberty Lake -- they'd even like the parcel to get annexed by the small city. Ultimately, it could cover four miles of river frontage.


Founded by Jim Frank in 1984, Greenstone has also moved into North Idaho with its Coeur d'Alene Place development near Lake City High School at the Montrose in Post Falls.


After a couple red-hot years, Wheaton predicts another busy year in 2006, but not quite as crazy as last year. "The numbers have really shot up," he says, "but compared with the rest of the West Coast, we're still an extremely affordable region. We're going to have a bit of a soft landing this year, I think." -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.
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