Downtown real estate savior's financial fall



Posted on May 2, 2013 at 7:36 PM

Updated Friday, May 3 at 2:38 PM

SPOKANE, Wash. -- For almost a decade, developer Rob Brewster, Jr. was one of the main businessmen to help breathe life back in downtown Spokane.

He handled some of the city's most distinguished buildings.

But over the years, he tells KREM 2 News he's either "voluntarily or involuntarily given up" most of his projects. He is currently living and working as a developer out of Portland and Seattle. He has always been known for a passion for downtown and its old, historic buildings.

Brewster's handiwork includes the Hutton building, to the graceful beauty of the Holley Mason building, to the complete, top-to-bottom renovation of the Montvale Hotel.
"Rob did some great projects. And some beautiful projects," says long-time Spokane developer Rob Wells.

Brewster even had dreams of creating Spokane's first new skyscraper in generations -- the Vox Tower. At 32 stories it would have been the city's tallest building. However the tower never got built.

Brewster said watching the economy take a toll on his projects has been one of the biggest challenges of his life.

"It's been a very interesting learning experience over the last couple of years. One that I don't particularly care to repeat."

Starting in 2007, he watched many of his projects start to struggle. Demand for office space dried up. Some of his tenants moved out and he had to lower some rental prices to compete. Property taxes on his buildings jumped $70,000. Banks stopped lending.

"Not to overuse the 'perfect storm' concept," Brewster says. "But I would say that's what it was."

Wells also remembers how the economy suddenly shifted.

"We were kind of in the Great Gatsby age in the mid-2000s. Everyone thought everything would just keep roaring, So, everybody jumped in, and we weren't prepared for the result."
Business owners everywhere were stretching just to make ends meet, including Brewster. One Montvale tenant, Scratch manager Steve Kessler, says he could see corners being cut, especially on building maintenance and an aging air conditioning system that died last summer and took time to get fixed.

"When things started to slip, they started to slip pretty darn hard," says Kessler.
In 2012, Brewster's Marshall Wells LLC, that owned Holley Mason, returned the building to its creditor when he was unable to make loan payments.  And last summer, another one of his companies, Selkirk LLC that invested in the Hutton building filed for bankruptcy.

Today, one of his last remaining projects in Spokane, the Montvale building, is facing a similar fate.

 His two restaurants, Catacombs and Scout, are doing business inside that building, but court documents show the Montvale Hotel is currently operating under Chapter 11 protection. A bank requested a trustee be put in charge of the Montvale, in an effort to recover what they were owed.

A judge then appointed a trustee to take charge of the Montvale, effectively cutting Brewster out of the building's financial decision making.

He's hoping the process will give him time to reorganize, and then get back to business.

“We are trying to restructure it," says Brewster. "It was completed in 2005, just two years before the recession started. So it never really had a chance to get its legs under it."

It was an agonizing defeat for Brewster and those who know him best.

"Rob will land on his feet," says Wells. "This has been very difficult for him. He's a very good developer and he'll bounce back. The economy just caught him in a bad spot. He had too many projects underway."

"He did a lot for a lot of people," says Kessler. "So, I'd love to see it all work out and stay in his hands. Because he's a good guy. He has the best intentions for everything. It's just falling on hard times."      

And Brewster admits it has been incredibly hard.  But he says not to count him out just yet. He's still living in Seattle, and is currently working on a new building development project in Portland. He says he has nothing specific he's working on here in Spokane. But he admits he is always keeping his eyes open for the right opportunity.

"Most of the visions and dreams are still there. I've always liked Spokane. I'd love to do another project there again someday. But we'll see. I'm not sure yet.”