Live Work Play LLC plans mix of uses
You may call it “the Skate Barn,” or “Home Movie Dot Com,” or “The Community School.” You may call it “the Chewuch Communications building” or “that office space above the ballfield where the call center was.”
Whatever the moniker, the large commercial space at 31 W. Chewuch Road in Winthrop has served many purposes under many names. Now, Live Work Play LLC simply calls it “opportunity.”
When Live Work Play LLC purchased the 9,800-square-foot, ADA-accessible commercial/residential building in early August, it bought a bit of modern Methow history. Built in 1998, the now-iconic facility was a skate barn for a project called Extreme Sports, says longtime Methow resident, entrepreneur, recreation pioneer and open space champion John Hayes, who helped the owners with the permitting for the first mixed-use PDA outside the Twisp and Winthrop city limits.
“[The owners] had inline skating and a couple of other projects,” Hayes said, “but it was pretty short-lived. They got into financial trouble, and my business partner and I bought it after it sat empty for a year.”
In the early 2000s, the late John Larsen moved a business from the Methow Valley to the west side, and situated HomeMovie.com in the former skate barn. “It was part of the ‘bring our kids home’ movement,” said Hayes. “Valley kids needed jobs to come back to after college. We intended to create well-paying tech jobs and locate them in the Methow.”
To support these tech endeavors in the skate barn, Hayes says, he and his business partner, Michael Golden, formed Chewuch Communications and installed 200 mbps internet service, which remains the fastest in the valley.
The fiber optic communications is just one of many reasons Live Work Play LLC purchased the old skate barn. The facility also boasts a high-tech fire detection system, installed when the Community School occupied the premises. It has one of the only elevators in the valley, ample water rights, flexible zoning and 15 private offices — many of them with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the rest with lovely shrub-steppe panoramas just beyond the windows.
It is, as Live Work Play LLC front man Christian Kar puts it, “A whole lot of building, all of it well-built.”
“And it was just sitting there empty,” Kar continued. “I’d never even been in the parking lot, let alone the building, when I saw the listing.” But lack of familiarity did not deter Kar, who has an entrepreneurial spirit and a history of starting successful businesses (most recently the One Cup Coffee Co.). He called the listing real estate agent.
“I went to look at the building and there was ice and snow everywhere,” Kar said. “But inside, you could tell they didn’t skimp on anything. It was so well-made. We saw it as a real opportunity.”
At the time of purchase, Live Work Play LLC’s plans for the entire 1.9-acre property were not concrete, but are instead guided by a central vision. “We want to do something cool affordably,” said Kar. “We envision a live/work/play campus. We’ve got the office space already. We’re freshening up and modernizing the building cosmetically, with paint, furniture and treatments. We’re creating comfortable common areas and putting in a central coffee station, of course. We’re installing dark sky lighting and doing lots of landscaping around the building. That office space is available immediately, and we’re hoping to fill it with creative types: architects, the outdoor industry, tech folks. Makers, artisans, photographers, designers — that’s who we envision making their professional homes here.”
If phase one is to rent out the office space, phase two is to develop the “live” component of the live/work/play model. This will involve, eventually, micro-units of housing, including apartments or co-living facilities, said Kar, who is aware of the need for affordable housing in the valley and wants “to be a part of the solution.”
Making a difference
Kar has a history of implementing what he refers to as “commerce-based social solutions.” One Cup Coffee Co. is organic and ethically sourced, and delivers a portion of its profits to local and global humanitarian efforts addressing problems like drinking water, hunger, health, education and gender equality. “If you can do something profitably,” Kar explains, “the money will always be there to move beyond talking and actually do something that makes a difference.”
On the campus — the naming of which is still in progress — Live Work Play LLC intends to “create a community asset that fills a need, or needs,” Kar said. “We’re feeling out what the demand is for living and playing space. There might be a movement studio, for yoga and other ways to be active. Or a climbing gym and a sauna. A community facility for people to move around, express themselves physically, and for kids to get their ya-yas out,” he said.
To some degree, owning and developing the West Chewuch campus will bring the Kars more in touch with Methow Valley residents than they have been during the decade and a half they’ve lived here (although Kar’s wife, Erika, has served as the Mazama Valley Life correspondent for the Methow Valley News, which has put her in the public eye in recent years). “We live up at the end of Lost River Road,” Kar noted, “and we’ve owned a west side business. We’ve been a bit isolated from this community. People are always asking me, ‘Are you new here?’”
Kar refers to himself as a “facilitator of good ideas” and he’s optimistic about the live/work/play campus’ evolution. Because the building itself is in such good condition, the Kars will be able to run the business remotely, with a property manager in the Methow Valley.
The Kars, meanwhile, will continue to generate ideas for the development of the rest of the property from the home they own in Todos Santos, Mexico, where they occasionally spend a school year with their high school-aged sons — for a time, at least, fully embodying the live/work/play philosophy that shapes all of their endeavors.
If you’re interested in renting office space at 31 W. Chewuch Road, call (509) 731-3768 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.