7509 Penn Duplex is Complete

It has been an exciting month for Botwin Commercial Development! After months of work on the 7509 Penn duplex, we completed the project and celebrated with a grand opening event on July 27. However, we celebrated more than just a duplex, we celebrated the collaboration it took to build it.

When we first started brainstorming ideas for the property, we knew we wanted the project to aid in learning, to feature high-quality design and materials and to be affordable. As a result, we knew the best way to achieve our goals was to collaborate.

We teamed up with el dorado inc., an architectural firm that was looking for a project partner for its work with Kansas State University’s Design+Make Studio which provides hands-on learning experience for its architecture students. The student’s involvement on the project not only provided experience for them but helped keep costs lower, contributing to the affordability goal. General contractor Studio Build was integral to the collaboration as well, ensuring construction was well executed while educating students along the way.

After seeing the Design+Make Studio students’ professional growth during the collaboration, we decided we wanted the duplex to continue contributing to learning. We partnered with Hale Cook Elementary School in Waldo and asked those who attended our grand opening to support the school’s “Cook Cash” program. Students earn "Cook Cash" for being safe, respectful and responsible and can then use it to purchase items from a store in the school.  

As part of the grand opening celebration, we invited those who helped us make the duplex a reality to each break a glass. This is a tradition that is normally part of a Jewish wedding, but we think it has special relevance to this project. Breaking the glass at a wedding is meant to remind everyone of tragedy. It provides a symbol, a sound, that pauses the celebration. In this case, it reminds us that although we are proud to provide this affordable housing, we still have more work to do. We live in a time when having a roof over your head is considered a privilege and not a right. We live in a time when affordable housing is perceived to be synonymous with thoughtless design, lackadaisical construction, and impoverished communities. We think that housing is a right, and that when addressing social and economic challenges, development must be thoughtfully designed and expertly constructed.

We are excited to be able to share this project with our collaborators, our neighbors, the greater Waldo community and with the residents who will soon call the 7509 Penn duplex their home!

Diane No. 4

            Outside my office window sits a small courtyard with a garden bed to the side. Our landscaping vendor has previously prepped the bed with mulch, and I can see the beginnings of plant life now peeking out. It’s always such an exciting time of year, I think mostly because in all of this nascent growth I can see so much future potential. As I mentioned in my last post, there are so many ways in which I can appreciate, deeply, the planted roof we have at 500 W 75th St. Much like the garden bed outside of my office, it too is beginning to spring forth from dormancy.

courtyardgarden

These plants and grasses have lived and grown with me for many years now, and each spring I have the chance to reflect on where we all are today. With the excitement and uncertainty that each year brings, I know that the flora around me will be here, growing, through all of it. Although I can’t stop and have a conversation with a blade of grass or a flower, in many other ways I do have an ongoing relationship with these plants. As they struggle and persevere and hopefully triumph, so do I do the same. Furthermore, when I can stop and appreciate the beauty contained in the landscape, I also have the chance to reflect on how much I value the skilled work of our landscaping vendor, Doug Davison.

Construction of the duplex at 7509 Penn is moving steadily along. Like the plants in my garden bed, this duplex project coming to life promises so much (uncertain) potential. How will the duplex tenants interact with their living space? How will the building interact with the surrounding neighborhood? How will our interaction with the duplex grow and change on a business level? While the perennial plants have been with me for years now, this new duplex is just being born. I, for one, am very excited to see how the duplex fits into the surrounding environment when the plants return from dormancy in Spring of next year.   

Diane No. 3 (roof leaks)

Owing to a recent roof leak, I had occasion to climb up onto the roof of the Botwin Building. As I ascended the ladder and stepped through the hatch, I was greeted with the spread of tall, currently dormant grasses that live on top of the building. Swaying to and fro in the wind, the grasses sang a dry, crackly song as they brushed against one another. I was tired and nervous about the roof, and anxious to get this problem resolved.

roofgrass

Joining our roofing vendor in the area of the leak, we went about discussing a probable diagnosis and appropriate course of action. Our roof landscaper would have to be involved, and this was likely going to be somewhat of a chore. My mind traveled to areas of potential problems, high costs, and inconvenienced tenants. As we walked back across the roof, I lightly stubbed my toe on a length of gas conduit obscured by the grasses. I winced. The group of us stepped down the ladder and I could feel my mood taking a turn for the negative. The pleasantness of the rooftop grasses now struck me as a liability in the successful repair of the roof.

In the coming weeks, all of the attendant roof issues would come to resolution. All of the vendors involved did a great job, and I have not had to let loose any more expletives as a result of this roof leak. What seems to strikes me now as I am sitting down to write about this experience, is how quickly my thoughts and feelings could morph into such sour grapes.

waldoplantedroof

I am not by any means advocating a willing ignorance of anger as it wells up inside of you. If you stub your toe, by all means let your frustration fly free. What I am promoting, especially in myself, is a deliberate and hopefully daily focus on those things that do make me feel a sense of appreciation.

Beautiful roof grasses, great vendors, and the privilege to own and maintain a building about which I care deeply, are among the many things for which I am thankful. As spring starts to come on line and what has been dormant now begins to grow, I encourage everyone to take some time to think about all those things around them that are worth some good appreciation.

Diane No. 2

The Social Economic Environmental Design Network recently recognized the 7540 Washington apartments, a project about which I am very passionate, with an honorable mention for excellence in public interest design. Receiving such an award gave me pause not only to consider how fortunate I am to have been able to participate in such an endeavor, but also to think back on the process by which 7540 Washington came into being. While collaboration, organization and creativity are all crucial pieces of the pie, here I’d like to consider the central role of loving kindness in a project such as this.

7540 Washington Apartments, photo by Mike Sinclair

In a passage from The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky writes, “In scattering…your kind deeds, you are giving away, in one form or another, part of your personality, and taking into yourself part of another; you are in mutual communion with another…You will come at last to look upon your work as a science; it will lay hold of all your life, and may fill up your whole life. On the other hand, all your thoughts, all the seeds scattered by you, perhaps forgotten by you, will grow up and take form. He who has received them from you will hand them on to another.” Acts of kindness are not merely linear processes, whereby one with means gives while one in need receives. They are much, much greater than the sum of their parts.

I, along with the whole design/development/implementation team, did approach 7540 Washington “as a science.” Everyone worked hard, and sought forward-­‐thinking solutions to the issues at hand. Although I take great pride in all that I was able to contribute to these beautiful apartments, what is most amazing about this project is what is not yet known. For all of the young adults currently living at 7540, and for those who will live there in the future, their contributions to each other and the community are only just starting to materialize. I am so excited to see how the loving kindness of the team of which I was a part, will grow and evolve as it passes through the hands of others. Happy Valentines Day.

Diane No. 1

I am starting my blogging career with a story about courage, tenacity and perseverance. It involves creativity. It is filled with love, trust and honesty. It also is a story of tragedy, survival, and growth. Ultimately, it might be just a story about friendship and women.

In 1986 I started a small commercial real estate company In Waldo with the help, support and guidance of my parents. A few years into my new business I decided to buy another building in Waldo and try my hand at development. That’s when I met Sharon Miller. Sharon sat down with me and my father to pitch her idea - renting exquisite ballgowns and evening wear to women so they could afford to enjoy glamourous clothing that otherwise would be out of their price bracket, rather than purchasing an item that they only needed once or twice. What a novel and brilliant idea, I thought. I told Sharon that I was interested in working with her.

Well, not so fast girls. A woman-owned start-up real estate company and a woman-owned start-up business weren’t exactly fitting into the male dominated, conservative financing or real estate development market at that time. Sharon could not find funding for her idea for several years, but that never stopped her. We consulted and consoled each other. My father tried to open doors for her. Sharon sought funding through the SBA and finally, we figured it out. Sharon opened the Gown Gallery at 515 W.75th Street in Waldo in 1994.

As her business grew, so did mine. Sharon expanded to bridal wear, started selling gowns and honed her skills of providing a unique and personal experience for each of her customers. My business grew too and I learned volumes about financing, leasing, developing and managing real estate.

Fast forward to the early 2000s; I redeveloped the Waldo Building (500 West 75th Street) and Sharon moved her business there in 2002. It was a beautifully designed, haute couture bridal salon. It was everything Sharon and I had dreamed about; it was gorgeous.

Then, in February 2007, it all went up in flames; literally, flames. My building was on fire and Sharon’s entire business was burning up. Even remembering it now causes me to feel a lump in my stomach. It was surreal. The story could have ended there, but, it didn’t. Sharon rallied and so did I. It was tragic and painful. It took a long time to recover from the fire and it was very debilitating at moments. We cried a lot. Sharon’s path after the fire lead her away from Waldo and we even thought our story together was reaching its end when she moved into another property downtown. But it wasn’t.

In 2010 Sharon moved into one of my buildings in the Crossroads Arts District. It was like a sigh of relief for both of us. We’d made it through adversity and now we could focus on the present, the future and the joy of working hard and being creative. I hope you look at Sharon’s website, www.gowngallery.com, so you can see just how lovely her bridal salon is. My business and my life is happier because of my long-term relationship with this remarkable woman.

Throwback thursday - Botwin in the News

Botwin Commercial Development and its properties have been featured in a variety of local and national publications.

About Botwin Commercial Development

Botwin Commercial Development’s mission is to operate under its triple bottom line of financial, social and environmental business practices by providing commercial development appropriate for the neighborhoods it serves and collaborating with local artists in the process.