By Ken Williams | Editor
A century-old building in Hillcrest that once housed a dance hall during the Roaring ’20s will be getting a nearly million-dollar facelift.
The 10,680-square-foot structure built in 1916 at 1253 University Ave. was purchased for $2.75 million in February, said Brandon Blum, a managing partner of SBMI Group, which bought the property from Shirley Campbell.
The building currently houses a Pilates studio on the top floor called Body Alchemist, and what Blum calls an “illegal weed shop” on the ground floor known as Herbal Lust. Blum said he is working with the city to have the unpermitted medical marijuana shop closed. The mezzanine level, most recently used for storage, once overlooked the Argyle dance hall that was popular during the flapper era.
Blum said the building, which is zoned for mixed use, has not been deemed as historical. However, he said the plans are to “play off the historical nature of the building but with a modern touch.” The architectural firm Texture is still finishing up the design, and those plans should be finalized this month, Blum said.
The renovation is expected to take six to seven months, with completion targeted for early fall.
Structurally, Blum wants to knock down the concrete overhang on the front of the building, which he calls “ugly.” He will replace the smaller top-floor windows, which face north, with floor-to-ceiling windows to make maximum use of natural lighting. “We also have big skylights already in the building, and we will keep those,” he said. “There will be tons of natural light.”
SBMI also plans to install energy-efficient lighting and solar panels to boost the building’s green initiatives and to reduce its carbon footprint.
Like its western neighbor Wine Steals, Blum will create a small courtyard in front of the building, extending to the property line. He also hopes to sign a tenant that would serve healthy food in the café space that once was home to Nunzio’s restaurant.
The building is across the street from Starbucks Coffee, a Subway shop and a strip mall. Its eastern neighbors are The Merrow and Tabletop Commons.
Blum will relocate the Pilates studio to the ground floor in the space now occupied by the pot shop. He said he is working with city officials to evict that tenant. “I am not against marijuana,” Blum said. “I just don’t think a pot shop belongs on a main street like this.”
The top floor will be modernized and converted into four or five offices for small businesses, he said. The mezzanine will become a common space for those offices, where tenants can socialize, share ideas, collaborate, or take a break.
Blum said SBMI Group, which is headquartered in Mission Valley, has been around for more than a decade and is making its first investment in Hillcrest. It is a commercial real estate management and investing firm, but not a developer, he said. Daniel Shkolnik is the other managing partner.
The opportunity to buy the Hillcrest property came up about nine months ago, and Blum said SBMI Group jumped at the chance to buy it. He said he likes the “trendy Hillcrest location,” but thinks the community is falling way behind North Park and Little Italy as a destination site. Still, he and his business partner are convinced that Hillcrest will continue to gentrify.
So far, Blum has spoken with the Hillcrest Business Association and the new Uptown Gateway Council about his plans for the property.
“Hillcrest has always been a real community,” he said. “But Hillcrest hasn’t had the growth of North Park or Little Italy.”
The trend for smaller office buildings, especially in the high-tech world, is to have open spaces with shared conference rooms.
“We’re really excited to create a unique, cool, trendy mixed-use facility that will pay homage to the significance of the building while tapping into the collaborative nature of entrepreneurs and small companies,” Blum said in a statement sent ahead of his interview with San Diego Uptown News.
“Hillcrest is an impressive area with a fantastic community of residents. Our vision is to create a special place that everyone will be proud of,” Shkolnik said in a statement. “Fun, collaborative, chic, cool … all built on the foundation of an incredible building.”
To read more information about the building’s new owners, visit SBMIgroup.com.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952. Follow him on Twitter at KenSanDiego, Instagram account at KenSD or Facebook at KenWilliamsSanDiego.