Columbia’s historic DuPre Building gets new chapter

krupon@thestate.comMay 11, 2014 

— Rosie Craig sees old buildings as story keepers – and one of the closest to her heart is starting a new chapter.

NAI Avant this month finished fresh renovations to the nearly 100-year-old DuPre Building at 807 Gervais St., a building that Craig lovingly rehabbed 16 years ago. The commercial real estate firm and several tenants have moved into the historic building with its original heart-pine floors, exposed beams and bricks, and metal-coffered ceilings.

Saving buildings like the DuPre – built in 1919 as a Ford dealership – is vital to the community, especially as it redevelops, said Craig, who retains living quarters on the building’s third floor after selling it to the real estate firm last year.

“Historic buildings anchor the power of place,” she said. “Humans gain comfort from seeing the same things in the same places, over and over again. It’s why people want to go to San Francisco and New York and Charleston because there’s such strong character in each city.”

As Columbia’s efforts to redevelop the city core gain steam, working with the existing buildings will be vital to keep it from becoming a homogenous Anytown USA, Craig said.

Todd Avant, chief executive officer of NAI Avant, said keeping the building’s historic character also was important to his team. They used a special – and more costly – stripping technique, for example, to remove paint from the original brick so it wouldn’t be damaged. They also left intact the original windows, adding sheets of glass for energy efficiency.

“The building’s got phenomenal bones,” Avant said, whose firm spent more than $1 million turning the building into its corporate headquarters for about 60 employees.

The building gives the firm, previously housed in the Bank of America building on Main Street, room to grow. Already, Avant is adding about five employees in the next few months as demand for commercial real estate picks up in an improving economy.

Avant’s firm takes up about half of the 31,000 square feet of rentable space in the building, including most of its second floor and part of the third floor.

The rehab brings a modern office to a historic setting. The space has a mix of traditional offices and collaboration areas with seating looking out over the Vista. Tucked into one corner is a long, restaurant-style lunch booth. And behind a couple of doors are private meeting spaces featuring spherical chairs with built-in tray tables. Each area has a mezzanine with sloped ceilings and windows overlooking the office.

The space is designed to bring in natural light. Extra glass was added to some of the offices and, in other instances, partial walls were used to let the light flow through the building. Extra touches throughout include modern chandeliers and colorful rugs.

“It’s a good progressive mix,” Avant said.

Other tenants in the building include David Hunt Creative, attorney Robert Bolchoz and the Boozer Law Firm. One 1,300-square-foot office is still vacant.

The biggest possibilities for the building remain on its first floor, which has two empty retail spaces that front Gervais Street. Avant said he is waiting for the right national or regional tenant to fill those spots. In recent months, the Vista has attracted an array of developments – from hip national retailer Urban Outfitters to the Hyatt Place Hotel, under construction next door to the DuPre Building.

Avant said his firm had been looking for a building in the Vista for a while, attracted by its vibrant live-work-play environment. The DuPre Building was not on the market when firm leaders approached Craig about selling it.

Craig said she previously had been turning down about four or five offers a year. But this time, the timing and price were right, so she decided to sell.

Many of the special touches that Craig put in 16 years ago were retained during the rehab, including the building’s original elevator motor, which is displayed in the lobby and will be surrounded by local artwork. The firm also kept the double brass doors that Craig reclaimed from a bank in New York City and the copper cornices from Christie’s on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

“I knew the Avant family, and I knew they would take care of this old girl,” Craig said.

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