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January 22, 2018

Broker oversees sale of historic Portland building designed by his great-great-grandfather

Courtesy / CBRE | The Boulos Co.
Courtesy / CBRE | The Boulos Co.
The historic building at 22 Monument Square in Portland sold for $2.1 million in a deal co-brokered by Nate Stevens, the great-great-grandson of the building's designer, famed Portland architect John Calvin Stevens.

PORTLAND — The tight commercial real estate market prompted broker Nate Stevens, of CBRE | The Boulos Co., to seek unlisted properties for a client who had a 1031 exchange to complete.

That resulted in the sale of 22 Monument Square, a 22,932-square-foot Class B office building in Portland's Arts District, sold to Bill Stauffer by Alan Mooney for $2.1 million. Stevens and Drew Sigfridson, also of Boulos, brokered the deal, which closed Jan. 2.

The 1913 building was designed by Portland architect John Calvin Stevens. Features include wood floors, high plaster ceilings and large windows.

As it turns out, Nate Stevens is the architect's great-great-grandson. Architecture runs in the family. In 1884, John Calvin Stevens founded the company that is today SMRT Architects, where Nate's father, Paul, was a principal. Although he didn't go into architecture, Stevens said the connection gives him an appreciation of the built environment.

"A lot of people have cool connections, but mine is very physical," he says. "There's an old building at 50 Monument Square that I sold a couple of years ago. We ripped up the carpet and 'Stevens' was written on the wood floor. It was probably from a delivery of lumber during construction. It's kind of cool when you find these things."

'A very competitive atmosphere right now'

Stevens has worked with Stauffer for many years. Stauffer is co-founder of Eco-story, a Portland manufacturer of LED lighting, and a principal at Storrey Industries, a Portland company that owns commercial and residential property.

Last summer, Stauffer sold a multi-unit residential building in Portland's West End and needed a 1031 exchange. Speaking to Mainebiz from Thailand — where he volunteers for an organization that seeks to prevent child sexual exploitation, bringing students with him from his alma mater, Colby College — Stauffer said he offers low, stable rents for working people and students.

"We've always had a good tenant base and, especially in Portland, where currently rents are really high, we felt good about keeping rents low and stable," he said.

To complete the exchange, Stauffer wanted a commercial building with good management in place.

It's not easy finding properties in Portland, said Stevens.

"It's an extremely tight market right now for investment product, especially in downtown Portland," said Stevens. "Assets rarely come on the market. Usually they're sold off-market, before they even get a chance to hit the market. There are typically multiple offers involved; it's a very competitive atmosphere right now."

So Stevens identified potential properties and began calling owners.

"You have to know your client," said Stevens. "You're not going to call about every building. It has to be close to the price range you're working with, or something that aesthetically pleases a client. In this case, Bill gravitates toward historic properties."

Seller Mooney wasn't immediately interested in selling. An engineer who founded the Portland consulting engineering firm Criterium-Mooney Engineers in 1974, he purchased the building in 1999.

In 1999, "It was a sad building" with 60% vacancy and no central air conditioning or central heat — but a doable price and a central location, Mooney said. And he knew his own company could fill a good part of that vacancy. Plus, it had what turned out to be an enduring ground-floor tenant, David's Restaurant, which is still there.

"We took the plunge, then spent a lot of money on renovations, like putting in central air conditioning and getting rid of the 30-plus air conditioners that were hanging out the windows."

Every so often, someone would ask Mooney if he wanted to sell the building. He always said no, including when Stevens asked. Then Sigfridson, Steven's colleague and Mooney's long-time friend, approached with an offer a little higher than he'd seen before.

"It got my attention, so everything cascaded from there," Mooney said.

The terms include a year-long lease for Mooney. But he's also looking forward to finding a new location that makes more sense for his firm, which is now spread over 2 ? floors.

The plan is to leave the building as is.

"The previous owner did a really good job taking care of the building and upgrading it," said Stauffer.

Some exterior and interior cosmetic upgrades include repointing the bricks and upgrading the paint, flooring and trimwork.

Unsolicited offers work with the right seller, said Stauffer.

"Alan Mooney is a good, honest person," he said. "It makes a negotiation easy. We have lawyers in the room, but we don't rely on them. There are a few handshakes along the way, and I trust him and he trusts me."

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