How did you get your building? This is one of the questions we hear most often, and also one of our favorite stories to tell.
Over the years, we got very close to a number of locations, but something always happened to change our course. We kept telling ourselves that everything happens for a reason and we were all persistent enough to keep moving forward. Our various twists and turns helped us finish many of the planning steps that we would need once we found a home.
A few years ago, we found an old car dealership building in a struggling downtown area that was for sale. The owner had moved his dealership a few years prior and had been trying to sell the property. The market for commercial property was not good so he had been steadily dropping the price. We decided to take a look and see if it could work for us. We could barely contain our excitement when we walked in and saw the space. It was much bigger than it looked from the street and the bowstring trusses made for an amazing, high, curved ceiling. The board was intrigued.
There was a lot of information we needed before we could decide what the building was worth, so we started doing some research and asking the owner for all the information he had. It was during a trip to his new dealership to pick up a stack of environmental reports that our whole world changed. The day I stopped by his main dealership to get the reports, he was excited to see me. I was a little taken aback by his enthusiasm but I followed him into his office. He asked me to have a seat and started to tell me a bit about his wife and that she is a teacher. Then, out of the blue, he says “She and I talked last night, and we decided we would like to donate the building”. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I tried to clear my mind enough to ask good questions. Did he really mean that they wanted to just give it to us? Was there a catch? I attempted to be confident and casual as if that sort of thing happened all the time. Meanwhile, my mind was racing. After a while, I left with high hopes. I called both of the co-founders to tell them “He just told me he wants to donate the building and I think he means it!”
As it turned out, he really did mean it. It was not as simple as it sounded, though. He had to jump through several hoops on his end and our biggest worry was that we would get the building for free only to discover that it would take millions to clean it up. One of the directors is an environmental attorney and had seen that scenario many times. We were also concerned about the condition of the building. It had fallen into disrepair and was going to need a lot of work. For a 14,000 square foot building, we knew that was not going to be an easy fix. A free building is kind of like a free lunch… it is not actually free. We started contacting roofers and contractors to look at the holding and give us an idea of how much the repairs would cost. Our attorney ordered environmental tests to make sure the interior would be safe for kids. There were so many conversations back and forth that at one point my then 8-year-old son asked me what vapor intrusion was. At least I knew he listened once in a while!
Eventually, the environmental reports came back surprisingly clean and the owner was able to get the property cleared. Now we could have the building, right? Not quite. It couldn’t be that simple. Now it was time for the attorneys to earn their keep. Our attorney and the seller’s attorney began their dance. The discussion of the details went back and forth for quite a while and we were beginning to wonder if we would ever get our building.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I decided to see if a personal touch would help. I cleared my schedule for a day and drove to his dealership with the intention of not leaving until I had a signed contract. I had a book to entertain myself if necessary, but I did not want to leave until my mission was accomplished. I didn’t tell anyone of my plan in case it didn’t work. We both contacted our attorneys and let them know we wanted it figured out by the end of the day. Once we got the ball rolling, we actually ended up having a very nice day. I did get a lot of reading done in between phone calls to the lawyer while he worked deals and did whatever car salesmen do. He even took me to a luncheon for a local business group he was part of. By late afternoon, we had finally come to an agreement and were finally able to sign the contract. They still love to tell the story and give me all the credit for getting us the building, but I know that it was a team effort by a lot of very tenacious people!