When Alyssa Agee was looking to open a brick-and-mortar location for food truck People’s Waffle, she learned of available space in the Symons Block building and thought it would be perfect for the restaurant.
“When I saw that space become available, I knew I wanted to be in this building,” Agee said.
Agee, along with her parents-in-law, Mark and Sue, purchased the historic building at 7 S. Howard St. in April 2021.
It was a big risk making the leap from restaurateur to building owner, especially during the pandemic. At the time, the building was 70% vacant, Agee said.
“Some of the floors had been empty for some time,” she said. “I didn’t know what would happen.”
After purchasing the building, Agee opened People’s Waffle as well as coffee and cocktail bar Emma Rue’s in two ground-level spaces.
A year later, the Symons Block building is buzzing with activity.
The building is 98% occupied with a variety of businesses, including Garland Resale Boutique, Anam Cara Healing Center, Empower Aesthetics, Solitude Barbershop and more.
Now, Agee is planning the next phase of renovations to the Symons Block to convert the structure’s third and fourth floors into a new micro-hotel and apartments. The second floor will remain office space.
“I’m personally really invested in bringing spaces into the downtown area that provide local artists and entrepreneurs an avenue for opening their businesses,” Agee said. “We want to draw people into the city as well, and that is what we are attempting to do with the third and fourth floors (of the building).”
The micro-hotel will occupy the building’s third floor and consist of 10 luxury short-term rental units with five shared bathrooms, a reception area and lounge.
“We are talking about putting in a small coffee shop-style spot on the third-floor lounge that would serve light pastries and coffee, and would be open to the public,” Agee said.
Agee drew inspiration from boutique hospitality chain Ace Hotel Group and the Society Hotel in Bingen, Washington, when creating the micro-hotel concept. She is partnering with Spokane-based Bang Design Studios for interior design of the units.
The units will provide enough space for a king-size bed and a custom-built desk that doubles as a television stand.
The micro-hotel is designed to cater to millennials and travelers looking to spend more time exploring the city, eating at restaurants and enjoying entertainment rather than staying in their rooms, Agee said.
“Spokane doesn’t have it yet, so why not be the first one to try it?” she said of the micro-hotel concept.
The more than $5 million renovation project also includes plans for 12 to 15 one- and two-bedroom apartments ranging in size from 480 square feet to 700 square feet, Agee said.
Agee anticipates four apartments will be on the building’s third floor in a secured area separate from the micro-hotel. The remaining apartments will occupy the fourth floor.
“We would like to keep the unique character of these units. There will be some features consistent throughout, but also an element of character to each unit,” Agee said. “Some might have exposed brick and some might have tile from the 1917 era when the building was first built.”
Agee said she intends to lease the apartments slightly below market rate.
“Our goal is to break ground this summer, with the hope of launching in 2023,” she said of the micro-hotel and apartment project.
The Symons Block building was constructed in 1917 and designed by architects Archibald Rigg and Roland Van Tyne, who are known for designing several Spokane landmarks, such as the former Salvation Army headquarters building, the Masonic Temple and Hutton Elementary School.
The building was added to the Spokane Register of Historic Places in 1996, in part, for its association with pioneer and business investor Col. Thomas W. Symons and his son, Thomas Symons Jr., who helped bring broadcast radio to the area, according to the historic register nomination.
In the 1920s, the Symons Block building was home to Spokane’s first radio station, KFDC, which later became KXLY.
Agee was intentional in leasing space in the Symons Block building to businesses complimentary to each other and the planned micro-hotel.
“We are envisioning guests from out-of-town who love the outdoors or younger creatives who want to park themselves in the heart of the city,” she said, adding the building is within walking distance to other downtown attractions.
“(The building) offers coffee, cocktails, a meditation center, a masseuse and a spa,” Agee said. “We want (guests) to see the entire city, but there is also quite a bit that would keep them in the Symons Block building.”
Empower Aesthetics owner Annika Marshall is the newest tenant in the Symons Block building, relocating from a location on Monroe Street to 525 W. Sprague Ave. earlier this year.
The business offers lash extensions, waxing, facials and laser treatments in an approachable and accessible environment, Marshall said.
“I wanted it to be a spa where everyone is welcome and can feel comfortable,” she said.
Marshall and her husband spent months converting the space, formerly occupied by Downtown Groceries, into Empower Aesthetics.
“It was a process and a lot of work,” Marshall said of the renovations. “I feel like the space really shines to its best potential, and we really want it to be a beacon of light, essentially.”
Marshall aims to expand continuing-education courses for spa industry professionals and offer additional services, such as laser tattoo removal, in the future.
The downtown community has been supportive of Empower Aesthetics since it opened in March, Marshall said.
“We received a lot of comments about how that specific corner has cleaned up so much,” she said, adding people working downtown are visiting the spa for manicures and pedicures. “It’s just really awesome.”
In 2019, Ashley Brownlee opened Garland Resale Boutique in the Symons Block building and is pleased with the arrival of several new tenants.
“The changes at the building from when it was bought last year has brought nothing but greatness to the block,” she said. “There’s new businesses, new restaurants, a great coffee shop … it’s bringing life to the block in a positive way.”
She noticed an uptick in customers at Garland Resale Boutique after People’s Waffle opened on the ground level last year.
Foot traffic has continued to increase as more businesses open in the building, Brownlee said.
“Before, a majority of foot traffic would be out-of-town visitors or people working downtown,” she said. “Now, its a lot of people visiting the building, going to the spa or going to Emma Rue’s for drinks. Foot traffic has increased significantly.”
Brownlee said the Symons Block is home to several locally owned, woman-led businesses that are supportive of each other.
“It’s like a little building family … It’s a really uplifting environment because we really kind of support each other in any way we can,” she said.
Brownlee is looking forward to the addition of the micro-hotel and apartments in the building.
“I’m excited to see a draw from different kinds of people staying at the micro-hotel or living upstairs,” she said. “The whole vibe of the block will elevate even more, which I didn’t even know could happen.”
Agee said she’s impressed by how businesses in the Symons Block building are reaching out to each other and creating a community.
“We have an incredibly supportive group of business owners,” she said. “My hope was to build community among businesses.”
Businesses are spearheading community activities, such as featuring artwork by various artists on the building’s second floor and lobby during the first Friday of each month.
“We are going to continue to do those community-building activities,” Agee said.
Agee plans to preserve the historic character of the Symons Block building while bringing a contemporary, modern vibe.
“I love that we are in the heart of downtown and we have the opportunity to be one of the central buildings that anchors the history of Spokane for years to come,” Agee said.