FREELAND — Susan Specht likes to take the long view.
“I’m an optimist by nature,” the Seattle businesswoman said. “This is my retirement plan.”
Why else would she put up a new office building in Freeland, where there’s a mini-glut of empty commercial space, at a time when she admits the economy keeps her up at night?
“My family’s always been entrepreneurial,” she said. “I wanted to do something creative.”
So nearing completion on two sloping lots across Myrtle Avenue from Washington Mutual Bank, with a view of the PayLess Shopping Center, is Specht’s three-story Bluewater Building. It has three levels of 2,400 square feet each, for a total of 7,200 square feet.
The ground floor, much like a daylight basement, has space for four small businesses. The floor above is designed for two 1,200 office spaces well-suited for medical offices or therapists, Specht said.
Shawn Doyle of Clinton, whose Difinitive Construction is putting up the building, will occupy 600 square feet on the top floor.
The other 1,800 square feet offers a view of Freeland and portions of Holmes Harbor.
The $900,000 building, which will be painted blue-grey, is being constructed in Northwest Craftsman style, with accents of rock and shingle. It will have 90 windows, most of which can be opened, Specht said. There will be three parking areas for vehicles.
Groundbreaking was in March, and the building is expected to be completed in December.
“I’m looking at it as a long-term project,” Specht said. “Freeland seems like a good business opportunity 10, 15, 20 years down the road.”
Specht grew up in Michigan and later moved to Seattle. She said she has been a potter and small-business owner, and currently works in communications and public relations. She said she has built a couple of Craftsman-style houses, but this is her first commercial building. She’s the president of Bluewater Development.
“We’ve always been building something in my family,” she said. “It’s in my blood.”
Barbara Taylor, of South Island Properties in Freeland, is the leasing agent for Specht’s building. She said the upheavals in the economy and the strict septic-system restrictions in Freeland are limiting what can be done commerially.
“Freeland has had a little bit of a glut in available commercial space,” Taylor said. “But there’s still activity, there are still people looking. The service industry is the main thing.”
She said the key to the business future of Freeland will be eventual incorporation and sewers. A recent drive to make Freeland a city stalled when a study indicated that the required sewer system would cost $16 million.
“I wish we could put a few restaurants out there,” Taylor said. “Everybody wants them, but nobody can do them because of the septic restrictions. We’re restaurant-poor and can’t do anything about it.”
Another commercial building in Freeland is on the horizon. Steve Myers, owner of Sound Electric, plans a two-story, 10,800-square-foot structure on two lots that now hold the closed Freeland Lanes bowling alley.
Plans include space for three retail businesses on the ground floor, with four office suites above.
Specht thinks the top floor of her building could be converted into residential space, once sewers are installed.
“Right now, we’re only allowed so many flushes,” she said.
Specht said she made many vacation visits to South Whidbey through the years with her parents, and has long thought about retiring here.
“All the women in my family live to be 101,” she said. “I have to be thinking about what to do financially for those last years.”