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A burning desire to save old firehouse

A burning desire to save old firehouse

Moving his west Omaha business into the building will be a dream come true for owner

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ONLY IN THE WORLD-HERALD

It took 20 years to clinch the deal, but financial adviser Scott Sladovnik finally bought his dream headquarters.

The future home of W.I.T. Capital Management definitely needs some TLC — it's caving in at one corner, a pair of pigeons roost inside, and sunlight seeps through a huge structural crack.

The old brick firehouse where Sladovnik and partners plan to relocate the west Omaha business has redeeming factors as well. It's in an up-and-coming pocket of north downtown where new retail and residences are planned. Hotels and popular live music and movie venues are around the corner.

Even before the new home of the College World Series ushered in that type of development, though, Sladovnik, 40, had his eye on deactivated Station No. 4 at 16th and Izard Streets.

"It was a quest to get this," he said. "I wanted to find a place with a lot of symbolism."

With guidance from Alley Poyner Mac-

chietto Architecture, Sladovnik and his financial team plan to restore the 1913 building that in the 1990s was used as an armored car business and, the last several years, for storage.

In addition to W.l.T. (What It Takes) offices, they're considering a speak-easy or retail store on the lower floor. A few condos might also be built on the back end.

Hoping to "keep it as period as possible," Sladovnik wants to acquire the station's original sliding poles, which are in the Omaha Fire Department headquarters. He also has consulted with the firefighters' historical society and has offered to display memorabilia.

Various city approvals and construction details are ahead, so completion is expected to take a couple of years. Stabilization efforts will begin soon, said Albert Macchietto, who plans to incorporate key firehouse features into a modern office design.

"It's a great building," said Macchietto, whose architectural firm is next door. "We've been looking at it for years hoping it would get a great owner. We're excited to be a part of it and welcoming them to our neighborhood."

Renovation cost is still uncertain. For the shell itself, Sladovnik paid $346,500 at auction — a price higher than anticipated, but not as high as he might have gone given his attachment to the place. "It's a timeless, one-of-a-kind piece."

Sladovnik's infatuation with the 6,500-square-foot firehouse, which once housed horses to pull the steam engine wagon, began before he married junior high school classmate Amy.

He was still at Creighton University, volunteering at the Siena-Francis House shelter, when he happened to turn onto Izard Street as a previous owner stood outside. That partner in Commercial Mail Service Inc. entertained questions from the budding financier, who then quickly spilled his dream about buying the station, perhaps as a residence, to future wife Amy.

She swiftly put the notion to bed after the pair drove through the street dotted with homeless men sleeping against neighborhood taverns.

Sladovnik, meanwhile, lived in an apartment near 31st and Dodge Streets and created Money Pit Investments, which renovated rental units that today benefit from the renaissance sparked in part by nearby Midtown Crossing.

He also began to build his financial business — today his team advises about 100 families — but he never forgot Station No. 4. "Not a year went by in 20 years that we didn't drive by, talk and kid about it," he said.

When the young dad would get crowded by another piece of baby or little girl furniture (he and Amy have two daughters, Elle, 5, and Mackinzy, 3), his wife would joke: There's always the fire station.

Last summer, Sladovnik's dad called to alert him that No. 4 was scheduled for the auction block.

Sladovnik once again took Amy on a drive past the building, which had a few new and different neighbors. As fate would have it, the same co-owner was at the firehouse, then used for storage. Prior to the armored car business, the station had been used by plumbing and auto transmission businesses.

Commercial Mail Service wouldn't sell outright to Sladovnik, he said, so he outbid the competition at the auction.

"To me it was worth it," Sladovnik said. "To me it was worth more than that."

Witnessing the bidding were members of the Omaha Firefighters Historical Society, who are pleased with Sladovnik's vision to keep the old firehouse standing.

"You take away some of the heritage behind Omaha when you start destroying these old buildings," said Stan Shearer, a firefighter who founded the society.

The five-person W.l.T. team, now at the Westroads Business Park, probably will maintain a small presence there for the ease of clients who live nearby.

Sladovnik said his firm likely could have spent less overall by building brand new elsewhere.

(Same goes for his family home. He and his wife are in the midst of rebuilding a moldy and foreclosed house they bought in the Rockbrook area, where they have roots and want to raise their children.)

But the Omaha native said he preferred properties with a special connection. He equated the old firehouse investment to his long-term business philosophy.

"Look at something not for what it is today, but what it can be in 20 to 30 years."

Contact the writer:

402-444-1224, cindy.gonzalez@owh.com

"You take away some of the heritage behind Omaha when you start destroying these old buildings."

Stan Shearer, Omaha Firefighters Historical Society

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