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Opinion: False alarm on firehouse sale tip

Eyes & Ears

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Two firehouses for two bucks? Too good to be true.

That was the word on the street, or maybe it was spreading through the firetrucks hauling around town.

It went something like this: The city offered to sell two vacant firehouses to the firefighters’ union for $1 apiece. But an offer of that nature, or any other, never came from the city, according to the local union president.

Same answer, when I asked city representatives. They weren’t aware of any discussions with representatives of the International Association of Fire Fighters. City officials were clear the transactions – there were two actual offers made and accepted by the city – ran through the normal request for proposal process. No special deals.

In fact, IAFF Local 152 President Chad Davis said the union would not even be interested in owning firehouse real estate. It currently has no such holdings.

Does Davis appreciate the potential nostalgia? For sure.

“I think it’s really cool what they’re doing with them,” said Davis, pointing to firehouse transitions he’s seen around the country to restaurants, museums, bars and houses.

He’s a 14-year Springfield Fire Department veteran, and in all that time, the two firehouses in question haven’t been in regular use.

We’re talking about former Fire Station No. 1 at 235 N. Kimbrough Ave. and former Fire Station No. 6 at 1201 S. Campbell Ave. The city put the properties up for sale in January.

For quick background, they sold this month and are awaiting redevelopment for business use.

Both properties haven’t been used as firehouses since the early 2000s, though Station No. 6 on Campbell has been a training grounds for firemen.

It wouldn’t be the first time Springfield firehouses were converted to commercial use. The most notable is probably the historic firehouse on Commercial Street, where Paul Parker and Mary Collette run a wedding and event venue. But there’s also Crazy Hats, a so-called dive bar on North National Avenue, as well as a residence on South National in the Walnut Street Historic District.

There is something cool about taking a strong, known pillar of defense that’s been home to our local ladder companies and finding creative uses past its prime.

“Fixer Upper” has nothing on these plans: an engineering firm’s office at Station No. 6 and a microbrewery for Station No. 1 on Kimbrough.

Though the brewer tenant prospect hasn’t been disclosed by new fire station owner and developer Jack Stinson, I can already see the names: Firehouse Brewery, Ladder Company Brewing, Backdraft Brewing, Firestorm Brewery or Station No. 1 BrewCo. Then, there’s all the beers you could name: Hotshot IPA, Pipeman English Ale, Five-alarm Imperial Stout, Pumper Gose, Smoke Porter or Vapor Cider.

I digress. Branding companies should be salivating about logo ideas and marketing slogans.

At the other Springfield firehouse, what potential for an engineering firm. It must feel like putty in the hands of the owners of Interpres Building Solutions LLC.

The company bought the fire station north of Parkview High School with plans to invest $150,000-$200,000 to renovate the interior and restore the exterior. This building already has major character. It doesn’t look like you’re average firehouse. It’s more like if Frank Lloyd Wright designed a fire station – it’s got all the architectural lines. As you can imagine, the upside is huge on this one. I’m thinking office envy.

The notable, stand-alone training tower will remain intact, the new owners say, but don’t expect a corner office in there. It’s not in the initial plans to be used as a workspace.

Oh yeah, back to the money. The city got more than $2 for the two firehouses. It was a combined $530,000. Former Station No. 1 fetched $370,000.

Sorry, but this tip appears to be a false alarm.

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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