Gary and Martha Piland are renovating historic downtown buildings and including tenants
Gary and Martha Piland had dreamed of moving from their home in the southwest of the capital to a Topeka loft in the city center for some time.
“We had the vision,” said Martha, “to have a building where we could have our shops and apartments and have some tenants and contribute to this downtown entrepreneurial ecosystem. It took us a while to find something . “
After visiting various locations, the couple turned their sights last year to a six-foot-wide, stucco-clad storefront on the 900 block of S. Kansas Avenue.
“We had to have a vision and overlook what was here,” said Martha. “Because when we bought this building, the upper floor was completely clad with stucco. The windows were covered. The back windows were all boarded up.
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But they were sure there was treasure hidden beneath the layered facade, and for the past eight months they have been working to discover it – their efforts helped revitalize downtown Topeka.
“We are not only investing in our own future, we are investing in the future of Topeka,” said Martha. “It is an unbelievable feeling to shape our gem of a city together with the many others – like Augustus Zahner years ago and the citizens of today.”
Couple revive 111 year old downtown building
According to the Pilands, Zahner was the local businessman and real estate professional who commissioned the construction of the two-story building at 923 and 925 S. Kansas.
Property information available on the Shawnee County Appraiser’s website indicates that the building was constructed around 1910, the most modern two-story building in Topeka. “
After years of falling by the wayside, this building is currently undergoing a facelift as the Pilands have invested a lot of time and money into revitalizing it.
“This place had basically been storage for many, many years. When we looked at this, people had just thrown empty boxes and leftover comb ties and it was just stuff everywhere,” Martha said. “Everything had to be dismantled and cleared out.”
Gary stated the building is approximately 10,500 square feet, including the basement. He estimates the couple – both small business owners – put more than $ 700,000 into the project. This includes the purchase price of US $ 200,000 and follow-up costs associated with the renovation.
The Pilands began the renovation work by hiring a team to remove the exterior stucco, which was removed over the course of a few days in October. Its removal resulted in a brown brick that was likely part of the original design.
Second floor renovation completed
From there, they started working inside.
Martha said luckily there wasn’t much to tear down as the building had good bones.
“We tried to preserve the historical character of the place and the structure,” she said.
The building is set up in such a way that two tenants can be accommodated on the first floor in an area between 1,000 and 1,500 square meters.
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The shop fronts sit on either side of an outward-facing, turquoise-colored door that marks the entrance to the building’s second floor. Dark wooden stairs lead up to where the Pilands companies are today.
Gary owns Umbrella, a local website design and video production company, while Martha owns her own marketing company, MB Piland Advertising + Marketing. Their offices take up part of the second floor and are next to a newly remodeled loft that they now call “home”.
“We had a lot of plans for what this building should do for us,” said Martha.
On the second floor, they refurbished some of the original wooden window frames at the front of the building and replaced some of the windows at the rear that had rotted over time.
They replaced ceiling tiles and also renewed the floors, putting up several layers of linoleum in some places and removing false skirting boards from the entrance on the second floor.
“There were four layers of linoleum in different colors of floors,” said Gary. “You could almost see the era. There was this green, institutional one from the 1920s, 1930s. Then there were the funky, weird designs of the 1950s. When we took them off, we kind of went back in a time machine.”
Now the entire second floor is equipped with parquet floors, a large part of which is reclaimed original wood.
“There were some things that fell apart,” Martha said, “but we were able to harvest baseboards and trim wood from other parts of the building to bring it here to look as good as possible.”
Gary said he and a friend did some of the demolition work inside, like removing the flooring. He and Martha also worked removing old paint from the windows and repairing the wooden staircase that they once feared would be beyond salvation.
“We did a lot ourselves,” said Martha. “Some of it because it’s a love job and some of it because we’re small businesses and we’re supporting this project with sweat capital.”
But they hired professionals – all from the region – to do some of the essential parts of the job.
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“Our general contractor is Steve Mohan from Mohan Construction,” said Gary. “We give them five stars plus.”
After the renovation work on the second floor is complete, the Pilands see themselves living in the building into their retirement.
“I think we’re done,” said Gary. “This is our third major construction project and I think this is where we wanted to be all along.”
Upscale jewelry store moves to the first floor
Renovation work is still underway on the first floor of the building, where the Pilands are ultimately hoping to find two retail tenants.
“That kind of made sense,” said Martha. “Someday, if we ever want to retire, the income will bring us. It will be good business.”
One of the two storefronts is already occupied, as a new upscale jewelry store is moving in over the next few months.
The owner, Michele Billam, said she was delighted to open the shop in Topeka. Billam said she previously owned another retail store in Topeka’s Westboro Mart mall. That business happened to be right under Martha’s marketing company, and so the two became linked.
“I noticed when they posted something about buying a building downtown. It just happened coincidentally when I made a life decision that I would reopen a retail business, ”said Billam. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. What are the chances that I might end up being among them?'”
When Billam heard more about the building, she was delighted.
“I love the history of the building,” she said. “I fell in love with these things the moment I saw them. It fits perfectly.”
The Pilands are still looking for a tenant for the second storefront, and Martha said she would prefer it to be a local retail store. But both are open to different options.
“If we weren’t already fully committed,” said Gary, “we’d probably start something, but we don’t need any other business in our lives right now. Lots of people have come up with good ideas. It would be great to have an upscale wine and cheese shop, it would be great to have a bodega, it would be great to have these cool things down there.
“I think we’ll know when we see it.”
In addition to completing the first floor, Gary would like to focus more on the exterior.
“We’d like to do something to maybe bring (the architecture) back,” he said. “Pillars and things have to be fixed. We hope that we can do some of them in the next few years.”
And as the Pilands ponder their progress and look to the future, they say they are excited to be part of the inner city development.
“What happens in this community has a lot of momentum,” said Martha. “It’s very exciting to be here. We have been seeing the potential for the inner city for a number of years.
“And new things keep happening and more people are investing locally – that has only confirmed to us, as long-time entrepreneurs, that we wanted to be here.”