We understand that opening a business is a gigantic undertaking. Thousands of hours are spent honing your craft, creating a business plan, branding and marketing, licensing, registrations, and more. The process is long, exhausting and takes a lot of care and attention. When it comes time to decide where to locate your business, we understand the urge to want to jump on the first commercial space that feels like a good fit and works with your budget.
However, there is more to consider than just location and area of a potential space. At Propel Studio we have worked with many clients who have opened their small business in existing buildings. These businesses have included restaurants, bars, cafes, yoga studios, creative office space, and many other business services. Depending on the condition and configuration of an existing building - opening a new spot can be simple and straightforward - or it can be complicated, time consuming, expensive, or not even feasible. We want everyone to succeed, so here are some of our recommendations on things to consider or questions to ask before purchasing or leasing a commercial space.
Are you Changing the Occupancy or Use of your space?
If your business will use the space differently than the previous tenant, or there was no previous tenant because it is a new building, you may need to apply for a Change of Use or Occupancy of the space as part of your commercial permit. This process can trigger a re-evaluation of the entire building and systems against today's code and safety standards, requiring new costs that you might not have anticipated, such as fire protection sprinklers, seismic upgrades, or increased mechanical systems.
It is very common even in a new mixed-use development to leave the ground floor commercial level unfinished, allowing flexibility for the future tenants to customize it for their business needs and style. This is referred to as permitting the ground level as a “Shell” space, meaning it is not ready for occupancy. In these cases an architect can help you determine what is necessary to establish the appropriate use and occupancy for your business and apply for a Tenant Improvement Permit.
Are you increasing or reducing the number of plumbing fixtures?
You may not even know the answer to this question - and you’re not alone if you don't. Determining the number of plumbing fixtures to serve a project is not an easy task. It comes down to the anticipated population for each space based on the floor area and function determined by the Building Code. Furthermore, sometimes there are requirements for separate men’s, women's, gender neutral, and ADA accessible bathrooms. Adding or changing bathrooms can be some of the more costly parts of a construction project so it's good to find out if this type of work will be necessary on your project.
Are you adding a kitchen or kitchen appliances?
If you are planning a Commercial Food Establishment in Portland, Oregon, Washington, or beyond, it’s important to understand exhaust and ventilation requirements based on the appliances you will have - including any cooking, frying, or dishware cleaning activities that are anticipated. Type I kitchen exhaust hoods are more intense and installed over cooking areas or appliances that produce grease while Type II hoods are simpler and used at areas which produce only steam or heat. Adding a Commercial Kitchen hood is one of the largest single expenses in most kitchens and it’s important to know what you have and what you will need to open your doors.
Kitchens also produce a lot of water and grease that ends up down the drain. These days, almost every food or drink serving establishment would also be required to have a Grease Trap. These are containers designed to capture waste grease, allowing only water to continue through into the city’s sewer system. These need to be installed below the kitchen floor and in some cases this may involve cutting concrete which can be expensive. With any cooking establishment, there are small details like this that we can help you identify early on so you can decide if a space is right for you.
Do you know the annual heating and cooling costs of the space?
If you can, we recommend reviewing past utility bills of your space in order to determine any costs to operate and maintain interior comfort throughout the hot and cold seasons. If utility bills are high it can be indicative of a poorly functioning mechanical system and little (or no) exterior wall insulation. Converting an uninsulated or unconditioned building to meet a use which will be heated or cooled will trigger insulation requirements, so exterior building envelope upgrades and associated costs should be considered.
Would any Structural Seismic Strengthening Upgrades be triggered by your alteration project?
Portland City Code, Title 24.85 contains criteria that may trigger requirements for additional seismic strengthening when the work involves an existing building. There are many nuances to this title, but three of the main triggers for seismic strengthening occur if:
- Percentage of net occupancy area change is greater than 1/3 the total area
- Cost of alteration is greater than $40/sf
- Increase occupant load by 150 or more people
We can help you determine if seismic strengthening will be required for your project.
Would any ADA Accessibility upgrades be required as part of your alteration project?
If you are locating in an older building, there is a pretty good chance that some aspect of the parking area, routes to (and through) the building, as well as toilet and other plumbing configurations may not meet current standards. It is a good idea to work with an architect early on to identify what you may expect to allocate to accessibility upgrades according to the Accessibility Upgrade Requirements in Existing Buildings (25% Rule)
Does the building you would be locating in meet current Planning and Zoning Requirements?
We recommend looking into whether the building you are considering locating to has any shortcomings with regard to city planning and zoning requirements. With any alteration project, even one with interior work only, it will be reviewed by planning staff to determine if the building site meets current standards for quantity of vehicular/bicycle parking, trash/recycling, loading/unloading areas, landscaping and other site design elements.
As you can see, there are many considerations when developing and building out a new commercial business space. Whether you are looking to open a brewery, restaurant, retail shop, office space, or other professional office, our staff would be happy to meet with you and help you understand all of your project's needs and analyze the spaces you’re considering so that you can avoid unnecessary challenges. We want you to open your business in a space that is a great fit, without any surprises or unexpected costs.
Please contact us today if you think there is any way we could help!
When working with new or existing buildings, our first recommendation in order to check the considerations above is to perform a project feasibility study. This is the first phase of our architectural services and we typically perform the following tasks:
- Create a list of spaces, their sizes, and ideal adjacencies for your businesses function
- Visit your city’s historical permits and obtain any existing plan information on your building. We then measure the existing space and provide CAD base drawings for design discussions over an accurate scaled plan.
- Construction cost estimation - we work with some great commercial contractors in the Portland area who would be able to quickly provide cost feedback in order to guide your project based on your budget.
- Create a Life Safety summary of your building project, which is necessary information to prepare and submit on commercial projects for permit.
- Estimate permit fees - Plan Review + System Development Charges (Transportation, Water, Parks, Urban Forestry, Environmental Services)
After the Feasibility Study, the next steps in our full architectural services are Schematic Design, Construction Documentation, Bidding and Permitting, and Construction Administration.
We are a licensed architecture firm in Oregon and Washington and aim to provide service in these states and beyond. Follow this link to view our Commercial Design Portfolio if you’re interested in seeing how we’ve helped other businesses open beautiful commercial spaces that work for their unique needs.
City of Portland’s Commercial Alterations - Tenant Improvement Resources Page https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/38578
City of Vancouver Commercial Building Permit Information http://www.cityofvancouver.us/ced/page/commercial-building-permits
City of Hillsboro Commercial Building Permit Information
City of Gresham Commercial Building Permit Information & Resources
City of Seattle Commercial Building Permit Information & Resources
City of Bend Commercial Building Permit Information & Resources
Lake Oswego Commercial Building Permit Information & Resources