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Former theater building has new life as high-tech office space

David Veeder stepped away from practicing law 18 months ago, capping a successful career that spanned more than three decades. As an encore, he’s concentrating on another long-time passion: commercial real estate development.

Veeder’s real estate portfolio includes properties in Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa. His newest venture is a high-tech renovation of the former Carmike 7 movie theater at 2255 Overland Ave. Veeder purchased the stockade-like block building in 2012 after Carmike moved to more modern venues at Shiloh Crossing and Central Avenue.

When he was asked what got him interested in commercial real estate, Veeder provided a simple answer.

“It’s a way to make some money and get some leverage without a huge amount of risk,” he said.

After purchasing the one-time movie house, Veeder took his time trying to decide what would be the best use for the property.

“One idea was to tear it down, but finally I concluded that I wouldn’t do that. The foundation and the walls were in perfect condition,” Veeder said. One reason that the building survived with minimal sagging and shifting is that it was built during the summer of 1988, when drought gripped the Billings area and fires raged in Yellowstone National Park. The lack of rainfall eliminated settling that could have resulted from building on wet soils, he said.

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With help from architects, engineers and other professionals, Veeder decided to upgrade the building to Class A office space capable of handling modern professional businesses that use a lot of technology.

He considers the property a good addition to nearby office and commercial development.

The building that once housed seven movie screens now features 25,000 square feet of office space that’s wired for doing business in the information age. The flexible design is capable of handling one large tenant or several smaller firms. Key to the design is a modern mechanical floor capable of handling miles of electrical wiring, computer cables, phone lines and heating and cooling ducts.

Walking through one section of the building, Veeder said the space would be well suited for an engineering firm, or even an operations center used by a financial institution.

The wide interior expanses were intentionally left open. That means cubicles and dividers can be added to suit tenants’ needs.

“I built it for somebody who may be in Billings now, or somebody who maybe isn’t even here yet,” Veeder said.

Adapting the building into office space required jack-hammering out the sloped theater floors. A flat concrete subfloor was poured 18 inches below the final floor level to make room for the mechanical floor, sometimes known as a computer floor. The assembly consists of 2-foot-square steel panels, each fastened at the corners to heavy steel supports.

“It’s a pretty slick system,” Veeder said, mentioning that similar floors are used in the new Billings Public Library, the GE Capital operations center and other technology-intensive businesses.

Because the building was originally designed for screening movies, it was a box without windows. In an effort to improve the working environment and to take advantage of natural light, Veeder added dozens of windows. Steel beams were added above the windows to provide extra support.

Thermal efficiency was another priority. With additional insulation, walls are rated at R32 and the roof is rated at R60. A new energy-efficient heating and cooling system was also added.

The design includes three conference rooms, a small reception area, and many new restrooms.

The building’s exterior is fitted with low-maintenance surfaces,

“There could be up to 150 people working here. And if you have that many, you’ll be glad you have additional restrooms,” Veeder said.

Demand for office space boomed in 2012 and 2013, partly in response to the Bakken oil boom. Sine then, the demand has cooled somewhat, said Drew Smith, principal with NAI Business Properties in Billings.

“We had a real good run on leasing office space in ’12 and ’13, and some of 2014,” Smith said. “Things have been slower lately, but Billings is growing, and we could see things moving.”

This article was written by Tom Howard from Billings Gazette, Mont. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.