Latest News

Century-old Oympia building reborn

The two men who saved the 701 Whaley building in Olympia hope to open the doors of the historic mill village community center Sept. 1.

It will be home to an artist-in-residency program — a first in the state — as well as apartments, shops, offices and a gallery.

The building’s rebirth is the latest coup in the resurgence of the village, which has seen its Olympia and Granby mills renovated into loft-style apartments and a boomlet in new construction.

But renovation of the 35,000-square-foot structure has been a serious labor of love.

“We blew by our budget like a Porsche past a mile marker,” developer Richard Burts says with a wry laugh as he sits on a folding chair in one of the cavernous rooms. “And we’re six months behind schedule. I guess I shouldn’t say that. But we are.”

So far, he and partner Robert Lewis have sunk a whopping $6.25 million into the century-old building, nearly $2 million more than they expected.


“Because somebody had to step up and do it,” Burts said.

The city had marked the building, then known as Gallery 701, for demolition when Burts and Lewis bought it in January 2006.

Former owner Jack Gerstner continues to use the Gallery 701 name to promote music shows but has no affiliation with the building.

The opening in September is good news for Lisa Hill, who sells bangers, scones and meat pies from the British grocery and gift shop Lil’s Olde English Shoppe a block away on Whaley Street.

A resurrected 701 Whaley, plus a rumored shopping complex across the street in the mill parking lot, would create a cluster of retailers in Olympia who would likely feed off one another.

“Hopefully, it will help us,” Hill said. “It certainly won’t hurt us.”

Also adding to the village synergy is USC’s new ballpark, an expanding Three Rivers Greenway and the planned USC research campus, Innovista.

Already new residential development is springing up.

Atlanta’s Holder Properties is building Assembly Station, a 388-unit apartment complex on Whaley at Assembly Street. And Diversified Development has already built 27 town homes, called Whaley Row, on Lincoln Street.

“It feels like the whole area is just staged perfectly for an explosion of growth,” Burts said.

701 Whaley has room for up to seven shops, five apartments and eight offices.

Plans are in place for the gallery and artist-in-residency program. Talks are under way for an organic bistro. And there have been a lot of tire kickers looking at the offices, Burts said.

But the varied spaces and uses in the sprawling building — “It’s Aladdin’s tent,” Burts said — drove up the cost of renovations. Also:

 Seismic features had to be installed to protect it from earthquakes

 All of the historic details had to be restored to qualify for tax credits

 Nothing — doors, windows or fixtures — was standard

The building has 24-foot-long, handcrafted beams. Storefronts that were hidden for decades by concrete blocks have been uncovered. And 53 bricked-up windows — each an average of 10 feet tall — have been exposed, and period windows installed.

Columbia’s Guignard family even donated matching period brick from a demolished warehouse to repair walls.

All of that “cost a small fortune,” Burts said. “You could buy a luxury house on Lake Murray for what the storefronts cost us.”

Burts and Lewis also have a contract to purchase the back of the building, home to the community center’s pool and gymnasium, which still exist. That structure has been occupied by Neil Parts Rebuilders since 1962.

The addition would increase the size of the project to 47,000 square feet.

“That pool has to be saved,” Burts said. “It’s too pretty.”

Reach Wilkinson at (803) 771-8495.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC