Developer Doug Nelson Transforms old Clean Center into Offices
Island real estate developer Doug Nelson is transforming the old Clean Center building at 290 Madison Ave. – adjacent to City Hall – into a modern office and retail suite.
The 5,800-square-foot structure has housed a number of different businesses over the years, including a Laundromat and dry cleaners. Nelson, a life-long islander and 1988 graduate of Bainbridge High School, bought the building in 2001 and converted the upstairs floor of the two-story edifice into his former ReMAX residential real estate offices.
He retired out of residential sales in 2012 to concentrate exclusively on developing subdivisions and commercial properties. Some of his more recognizable projects on Bainbridge include Stetson Ridge, just off of Bucklin Hill Road, a subdivision that now encompasses about 60 homes; Woodland Village, off of Ferncliff Avenue; and the town homes at Sakai Village on Madison Avenue S., across from Ordway Elementary School.
Elsewhere, he’s developed apartments in Bremerton and at least 100 condominium units in Federal Way, along with a 100,000-square-foot storage facility in Poulsbo. He also owns the Central Plaza in Poulsbo, next to Central Market, and is an investor in Kachai Thai Kitchen, located there. “You have to make hay while the sun shines,” he says by way of explaining is somewhat frenetic pace of his work.
Nelson’s signature project on Bainbridge may be Coppertop Park on Sportsman Club Road, across from Sakai Intermediate School. The business park, home to such iconic local businesses as Bainbridge Brewing, Bainbridge Distillery, Fletcher Bay Winery, Sweet Dahlia, That’s a Some Pizza and Storyville Coffee, among many others, was developed over a four-year period, from 2004 to 2007.
“It’s stable and we’re full,” says Nelson, who handles most of the leases and financial transactions associated with his developments together his wife Katrina Nelson.
Meanwhile, the property on which the former Clean Center sits is currently undergoing some minor mitigation with the state Department of Ecology over chemical leakage wrought from the former dry cleaners that closed its doors in 1991.
Nelson says workers have taken core samples at the site to determine if the underground contamination – which is roughly 15 feet below the surface – has spread in any way.
“We know exactly where the contamination is,” he says. “We’re working on a cleanup program. We’ve tested the air, the groundwater and the deep water. We know it’s not in the aquifer. We know it’s not in the air. We know it’s in a hot spot 15 feet down.” Nelson and company plan to remove the contaminants sometime next summer.
“We want to do our best (working with the state), and then repave it (the parking lot),” he adds. “We want to reposition it as a better asset (and) get in good tenants.”
Nelson and his partner on the project, Adrien Petersen, a former high school chum, are investing $700,000 to $800,000 to upgrade the former Clean Center, which he says was “rundown.” The Laundromat, in particular, was a bit of an eyesore. “People were bathing in there,” recalls Nelson. “It was not well run.” (Nelson leased the space to the former owner or operator of the Laundromat).
So far, Nelson has leased a portion of the ground floor retail space to Street Sports Poulsbo, a Jiu Jitsu and yoga studio. The downstairs space is broken up into two units: one 1,400 square feet, and the other 1,500 square feet.
Nelson refers to them as “open boxes with bathrooms… The tenants can do what they want with them (the spaces). The upstairs can be divided into three offices with one common bathroom. The retail units will lease for $20 a square foot, while the office suites will fetch $17 a square foot, Nelson says.
The developer, a graduate of Western Washington University, says he and Petersen totally rehabbed the building, putting in new polished concrete flooring, whole new HVAC and electrical systems, along with new fiber, cable, stairs and walkways.
“Other than the framing, it’s essentially a brand new building,” Nelson says, while pointing out that he kept the structure’s drive up window on the north side of the building. Back in the day, that’s where the former dry cleaners’ customers used to drop off and pick up their clothing. “Those are hard to get sited (permitted) these days,” he says. “You never know if some business might want that” in the future.
If he had his druthers, Nelson would happily convert the former Clean Center into four, one-bedroom apartments. But, “that would be a long city (permitting and zoning) process,” he explains. “Storage (units) and apartments do pretty good (as far as return on investment goes).” With “offices it’s hard to make a living,” he explains. “There are so many people working at home (nowadays)… I don’t have elevators here (at the Clean Center), so that makes it tougher” to lease space.
Nelson credits the work of contractor Eric Castro, New Star Painting and sub-contractors, such as Abracadabra Locksmith, for helping transform the Clean Center, which will be known by the rather pedestrian name of the 290 Madison Avenue Building going forward.
Next door at 328 Madison Avenue Building, Nelson owns the small, 1,300 square foot center, long occupied by Exotic Aquatics. Over the years, he’s mulled the idea of building a multi-family development on the site. But, as he’s quick to note, “the city’s (Municipal) Code isn’t clear about it” (how to rezone and properly site the property).
Like a lot of successful entrepreneurs and developers, Nelson has learned to be patient and roll with the punches. “You win some and you lose some,” he says with the voice of experience. “You hope you win more than you lose.”
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