As bad times continue to soak every corner of the real estate market, realtors are getting creative (and generous) in a bid to stay competitive.

As a result, some local business is about to land a helluva deal from broker Hoff & Leigh.

On March 16 the firm will raffle off a free year of rent to some lucky company in the Emerald Plaza building at North Academy and Tomah. The winner will choose from one of two newly remodeled suites that range from 2,500 to 3,000 square feet.

“It’s not just about marketing,” said Hoff & Leigh Associate Holly Trinidad. “We care about the community and want to help local businesses. A start-up or a nonprofit could really benefit in a time like this from that reduced (financial) burden.”

Any legitimate business will qualify for the raffle, but there are a few stipulations: The president or CEO of the company has to tour the building and show up to fill out the lease application; the potential tenant will have to explain why their company would benefit from the free space (this will hopefully keep Starbucks from taking advantage); and the winner will be responsible for utilities at the building.

Other than that, the lease commences on May 1 and is a one-year deal with no strings attached.

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But even the losers will be getting their St. Patrick’s weekend started-off right just by showing up; Hoff & Leigh will be hosting a wine-tasting party at the event.

Prime Center moving toward viability

When Sierra Commercial Real Estate Managing Director Brian Wagner called to tell me about a 14,000-square-foot office space he just rented, I didn’t see the significance.

Turns out, he had a good story, and one that’s telling of the times.

Last July, a joint venture headed by Colorado Springs-based Griffis Blessing Inc. acquired the Prime Center at North Chapel Hills Drive and Briargate Boulevard.

Prime Center’s 280,000-square-feet of office space was only 64-percent occupied, and Griffis Blessing took over the underperforming property through a friendly deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.

Six months later, Sierra finally closed a deal on the first new tenant. But a rush-to-occupancy has never been the goal.

Instead, Sierra and Griffis Blessing are taking the long-view in hopes of creating something sustainable, and they started by taking a look at what they had.

“We came through and worked on existing tenant relationships first,” Wagner said. “At the time the previous ownership failed, a lot of things like parking lot maintenance and landscaping fell through the cracks. (Griffis Blessing) came in and did a complete assessment of the property. They redid the parking lots, painted, gutted the inefficient layouts and had an architect put together new plans.

The work paid off. Wagner said he’s renewed leases on about 40,000 square feet of space, and expects further renewals this month.

The next step was attracting new tenants, and like everything in this market, landlord concessions are playing a big role.

“Basically, we’re saying , ‘Tell us what you need’,” Wagner said. “The first new tenant essentially got a brand-new space. We redid the ceilings, HVACs and electrical. No one in the market can touch the financial terms we’re offering.”

That tenant, telecommunication consulting firm TCA, is finalizing the details on the 14,000-square-foot space at 526 Chapel Hills Drive.

It’s a long road from struggling office center to flourishing business district, but Wagner is optimistic.

“I think we’ve got the momentum we need to get the project leased,” he said.

There were 96,000 square feet of available space when Griffis and Sierra started their collaboration.

Today? There’s only 82,000 more to go.

Jonathan Easley can be reached at or 719-329-5235. Friend him on Facebook, find him on Twitter, and follow his blog at