Smiley sees downtown building potential

Gale Rose
Robert Smiley examines an original brick wall at 317 South Main in Pratt. Smiley has purchased the property that is on the south side of the Barron and is remodeling the building as a rental property.

The sounds of drills and hammers have filled the air recently at 317 South Main in Pratt as a crew brings the long empty building there back to life.

Rob Smiley, of Smiley Concrete, has purchased the building that adjoins the Barron Theater on the south side. Smiley and workers from his business have stripped the building down to the original walls and ceiling as they begin the transformation of this building that sat unused for over a decade.

When Smiley found out the building was for sale, he didn’t know its condition but he did know the building, that sits between the Barron Theater and Merchants Park, had big potential.

“It offers the most unique location on Main Street,” Smiley said.

This is an opportunity to help maintain the downtown area and to help the town keep moving forward. It takes a lot to maintain businesses and keep the culture of Main Street in tact, Smiley said.

Pratt is a special place, Smiley said. The people love family life and are hard working.

“I view Pratt as a special place,” Smiley said. “America’s capital city of small towns is Pratt. If you want to live in a small town, there’s not a question. Pratt is the place.”

Pratt is a place where its worth living and this project an investment back into the community.

For Pratt, Smiley said he was willing to put himself out there on this project and wants to take on other projects as well. He already has a history with renovation projects having worked on the Barron Theater remodel and Merchant Park.

For years, Smiley has walked past this property and admired the mural on the south side of the building. It was one of the factors in deciding to take on the project.

When the building came up for sale, Smiley couldn’t pass it up so he bought the building and started the renovation process that led to some architectural discoveries. When his crew took down the suspended ceiling, they discovered several wooden beams across the width of the store with a matching boarder that runs along the top of the wall. Smiley was uncertain what type of wood was used to make the beams but it could be cherry or oak. He is certain that this architectural feature will be kept and emphasized in the renovation.

“It’s quality wood work and original architecture. It’s something you don’t see in modern buildings,” Smiley said. “We plan on keeping the old look and restoring it with modern day finishes.”

Once they saw the wooden beams, it inspired them to change their idea for finishing the building and bring the ceiling back to life.

The building has been stripped down to the original walls and the original lathe and plaster ceiling. Plans are to stabilize the walls and put up new sheet rock to form a smooth surface. The loose material on the ceiling will be removed and covered over with long corrugated metal sheets. The existing duct work on the ceiling hangs below the wooden beams and the plan is to leave the duct work in place and paint it black. It would be cost prohibitive to have to remove the duct work and replace it with something else, Smiley said.

The floor has old carpet on top of tile squares on top of ceramic tile in small six sided pieces. A couple of small portions of the floor have termite and water damage and will have to be replaced. In the basement, the crews discovered the original boiler was still in place as were the doors for the coal chutes. The floor beams appear to be in pretty good condition especially for such an old building. There is a little termite and water damage on a couple of beams but its repairable, Smiley said.

If the building is structurally sound, he would like to install a window and door on the south side that opens up onto Merchant Park.

“I would like a window at least,” Smiley said.

A facelift for the front of the building is also in the planning stages.

Overall, there were many little water leaks but those would be fixed. The old plumbing, heating and electrical systems will be replaced, a new floor will be installed, the old restrooms will be removed and replaced.

With all the work to be done, Smiley anticipates the work to be completed and ready to rent or lease by this summer.

Smiley said there has already been interest renting the building for businesses involved in food, ice cream, youth entertainment, clothing and health and yoga. He’s been asked to consider adding another mural on the blank wall on the south side of the building. He plans on keeping the original mural.

Smiley has delayed making any commitments to any business until the remodel is complete. He wants to make sure the business will fit in with the downtown area and has the potential to succeed.

“You want to have something that makes financial sense,” Smiley said.