FAIRFIELD — Brian Chikowski watched the night of Jan. 13, 2012 – a bad-luck Friday, if ever he had one – as his two-story Empire Professional Building near the downtown was gutted by fire.
He saw the building at 744 Empire St. engulfed in flames. He stood by as books owned by his law firm dating back to the late 1800s were destroyed. He watched as an office building with various tenants got reduced to four concrete walls and rubble.
“There’s nothing you can do,” Chikowski said.
But now the Empire Professional Building has been reborn. A few weeks ago, Chikowski saw the finished product.
“It’s exhilarating,” he said.
The old version of the building was constructed in the early 1960s, with Chikowski and Garry Rees buying it in 1992 at a time when they were already tenants there. One of its most distinctive features was ivy growing up the walls. For the most part, it was a no-nonsense structure, without architectural flourishes.
Chikowski and Rees didn’t simply clone what existed before, though they kept the cement walls that survived the fire. They went for a new look.
Now people entering the building step onto an imposing, two-story porch with columns. The building has Tuscan elements to it, a classical look, mirroring the redevelopment style done at the eastern entrance to the downtown, where Starbucks is located.
Inside the front doors are two chandeliers with 36 lights each. The chandeliers represent the latest in energy-saving illumination. Chikowski said it would be like having a couple of 100-watt light bulbs on in your house.
The suites each have such features as a break room and their own restrooms. Chikowski said he and Rees wanted the tenants to have what they wanted in their suites.
In the wake of the fire, Chikowski and Rees temporarily moved their law offices. First Northern Bank contacted them and had space upstairs in their building at 1455 Oliver Road. Chikowski said they reopened at the new location about 10 days after the blaze.
Then they began working with the insurance companies and city on rebuilding the Empire Professional Building.
“Basically, we were forced to become developers by the virtue of our circumstance,” Chikowski said.
He praised the city. The planners were very helpful and made suggestions, Chikowski said.
He’s never learned the cause of the fire, Chikowski said. Investigators speculated that an electrical problem beneath the second floor might have sparked it, he said.
Tenants from the old Empire Professional Building moved on after the fire. A chiropractor, the American Red Cross and the rest have their offices in new locations.
Chikowski and Rees moved into the rebuilt building. So have a group of psychologists. But there is room for more.
Those interested in being a tenant in the building can call Chris Wallace with Premiere Commercial at 436-7300.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929, or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.