Monday, November 28, 2011

Subpar Miniature Golf- What went wrong.

We began by tearing out two non-load-bearing walls, some old plumbing, and trashing a great deal of debris that had been left behind, as previous years the space had been rented to Halloween stores, and they had left massive amounts of crap. Once we had all of that out, and our dumpster hauled away, we brought in our electricians and plumbers to inspect our situation and make bids.

Our electricians were blown away by the out-of-code work that had been done on this site- we were aware that there were problems, but the scope of the work was a lot more than expected. We asked our landlord to cover all costs associated with bringing the electricity up to code. Any changes to the electric system that were our own changes- the installation of new wall switches, new outlets, and electric bathroom fixtures (lights, tankless water heaters, hand dryers) would be changes we would pay for. This request was refused at first, then the landlord offered to pay for half of what we were asking for.

Then the plumbing- our plumbing contractor had us examine the current plumbing system with a scope- and the results were again worse than we expected. The only two existing working toilets were attached to the old sewer line in only the most minimal way possible- not up to code, and not in a way that safely allowed for proper disposal of waste. The cost to repair this so that the existing toilets would work properly- not the new ones we'd be installing later, was significant. And we asked the landlord to be reimbursed for that. We were refused this outright.

Then the rear left wall- In some year past, our neighbor on the south by our rear exit decided to add two feet of depth to the parking lot without getting a permit, and in doing so decided to use the wall of our building to hold everything up. They put in no drainage or waterproofing on our wall, and in subsequent years the wall has started to buckle and leak. This was all done before the current owner of the lot purchased it, who was unaware of the problem when it was bought. Thankfully, after discussing the situation with the lot owner, they have agreed to right the problem without any fighting or disagreement. Dealing with them so far has been easy and excellent.

Then the floor- After the Halloween store moved in, and back out again, we began work. We had no building permit yet, so we were limited to wall and floor covering work at the time. All the while we are negotiating and expecting the landlord to agree to our costs, making offers closer to midway between where we and our landlord saw the costs being split. And we kept getting turned down. Then after ripping up the carpet we inspected the floors. And the back 25% of the floors were thrown in over pits with no infill or reinforcement, and the slab was installed in some places at less than an inch thick- when concrete slab is supposed to be at least four inches thick.

These new costs coupled with our costs of making the building ADA compatible were skyrocketing. I can't use any specific numbers here, but suffice it to say costs associated with just making the building acceptable for our use had long since passed half our total project costs, and our landlord has been fighting us on every penny. Meanwhile, Jake and Martin had been getting paid for their work, and money had been spent on the improvements and supplies for the further work expected. All this before we had done any building of a golf course at all. Then...

Subpar Miniature Golf- What we learned

So with a space and existing as a legal entity, we began the research. I began to catalog all the costs I expected to have with the project, find suppliers, line up contractors, and see if the project was feasible. And the more we dug into the project the more costs and problems we found.

First there was the rear emergency door, which was not installed to ADA spec, and an entire front window assembly that was going to have to be replaced. Then there was the security deposit- a whopping $25,000, which, at the time was about half of our projected budget for the entire affair. We also put together income projections and things looked gloomy- even optimistic projections put us short every month. All told, everything began to look like the project was dead in the water- which was OK, my expenses in the project were minimal, and we hadn't signed a lease yet. But my dream of opening a miniature golf course was over.

But then I was contacted by my friend Bobby, who I hadn't talked to in a while, but is something of a business guru himself. He urged me to do some research that would give him the info he needed to see if this project was, in fact profitable. David and I researched customer numbers at similar establishments, competitor's pricing and services, and we sent our findings on to Bobby, along with our expected costs and income sheets from before. He sent us back some numbers that looked substantially more promising- we weren't going to be wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but I might make enough money to support myself.

So with things looking positive, we signed a lease (after a whole long to-do regarding the Halloween store, which I'll recount at another time.) We had noticed some issues with the electrical system, but these were issues that the landlord would cover, or so we thought. We began work on the project in mid-august, with some light demolition work. Continued in part 3.

Subpar Miniature Golf- Where we started.

I feel like I'm walking into a dusty old abandoned house.

Hello? Anybody here?
Anyone been on this blog in this calendar year?

Well, this is really the only place to post this sort of rant, so let's try to get this out in a few short hours and see if we can't get you all up to speed.

As you, a Facebook friend, are most likely aware, I am attempting to open a miniature golf course, here in the Bay Area of California. More specifically, Alameda, a city, island, municipality all of its own, just south of Oakland, and about five minutes from my apartment. Right now, we are on the precipice of the end, teetering, as my architect so plainly put it, between destruction and chaos, hoping, really to not tip either way, but the outlook is not great.

I'd like to commit to digital paper the whole story, so if you would rather not start from the VERY beginning, wait until my last post of the day, where I'll spell out the current situation in detail.

It all started with Jake, Martin, Paul and Chris, all neighbors of mine, discussing a way to get guests of our upcoming F3 event to make sure they visited all of the open studios in the building- what if there were a miniature golf hole in each place, and guests were encouraged to play a full round? An ambitious project to be sure, but definitely clever. We thought about the logistics of it, if it should be outside, whatever, and I began thinking about what we could do with all the holes at the end. There was certainly no room for them to stay in anyone's unit, storing them would be expensive, and destroying them would be wasteful. What about turning it into an actual course? Are there any miniature golf courses anywhere near here?

As it turns out, no. There isn't a single miniature golf course in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Alameda or anywhere in the western part of the bay, save for one in Marin County. The closest one to us was in Castro Valley, and that is about a 20 minute drive.

So I discussed my enthusiasm about this project and the potential market, with David, my neighbor and business start-up expert. He shared similar enthusiasm for the idea, and we started doing the research on business starting procedures. We filed as an LLC in the name of Subpar Entertainment LLC with the state of California, and started scouting properties.

There were many lots in Oakland that looked interesting, but an outdoor facility in Oakland would be prone to vandalism, and would require building a large and expensive fence and 24-hour security. We searched for indoor spaces large enough- warehouses, closed clubs, when I came upon a Craigslist listing for a space on Park Street in Alameda.

Alameda is a family-oriented city, not dense in the traditional city sense, but a nice place where there are a lot of kids, and a good police officer to citizen ratio. In other words, it is a bit of a safe haven from the cities that surround it on all sides. The good news for us is that we kept hearing was that while there were many families and young people in the area, there were few entertainment establishments, and a sore need for more.

We contacted the property manager of the space, arranged a visit of the space, and started negotiating rates. I'll admit I fell in love with it too quickly. I saw the potential in it, put not the pitfalls. I didn't have a structural engineer look at it, I didn't have a plumber or electrician inspect it, and I didn't check previous location work history. All sizable mistakes, in my own right.

But we knew, or thought we knew at the time, that this was the perfect location. When our other possible location said no, we focused our attention on 1511 Park Street, and figuring out the logistics of opening the business in that spot.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Bed Complete

Dear Internet,

You're welcome. I spared you once again the boredom of staining and lacquering a huge chuck of wood. Instead, I waited until the boring part was done to show the headboard with the upholstered panels finally in place.

Tonight I will sleep on a completed bed, though I might take some time to read leaning against the headboard, which is what it was designed for.

The bed needs a pull-out nightstand, but after two months work, I'm ready to call this one just about done.

It became too dark before I was able to get any high quality pictures of the bed all together, the shot above was the best I could do. So look for some glamor shots tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have begun work on a couple of other projects. The first, and largest, is a greatly expanding dining table- with the ability to be suited to seating 2 to 12 diners through a complex folding scheme. Should be very exciting. Here is a render of the table in CAD, folded to full size. The idea is still in its forming stages, so don't yet judge it- I know it looks a bit unstable.

The second is sincerely a vanity project. I came upon an amazing pool cue handle at an antique store in Alameda when browsing with Zac and Jessica- this in no way counts as "antiquing." Anyway, this handle had the intricate carving of a Japanese dragon on it, and I thought it would make an excellent pipe. TOBACCO pipe. I've wanted to try some wood carving- and what wood semester would be complete without it, so I've decided to make my own version of it in pipe form.

Martin gave me a hunk of ironwood- a VERY heavy and dense wood often used for knife handles, and we cut it into a chunk about the right size. Ironwood, incidentally smells of feces when cut. Not just a general bad smell, it just sincerely smells of poo.

Anyway, this is the pipe head i whipped together in modeling clay.

Eventually to this I'll add a stem about a foot long in walnut for a very cool looking, if impractical pipe. Tobacco pipe. Only tobacco.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Finishing School

Bed built, there is only one thing left to do- about 100 things. I wanted to take this project one step further than the futon and actually finish it. Staining and lacquering is not the most glamorous and fun part of building, but it is necessary for appearance and durability. Last week I sanded, stained, and applied three coats of lacquer to the bed frame.

Last night, I finally brought the frame inside after it had outgassed (read: stopped smelling like lighter fluid) and put it together. Nice.

Then, it was just the matter of putting the slats back into the frame. Amos helped.

I really like the look of the light wood slats on the dark wood of the frame.

This morning Jake helped me drag it upstairs, and tonight, I will sleep like an adult again.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Upholster Child

Every day I get closer and closer to finishing this bed, and every day I get closer to sleeping above the floor. Yesterday I bought twenty one-by-twos to finish the frame of the bed, and stopped into an upholstery shop to get some materials.

I asked about materials, and woman in the shop ended up walking me through the entire project, start to finish. She was great, and I really wanted to buy something from her, but all her fabric was of the older furniture sort. I found a yard and a half of what I now know is green velvet in the discount bin for $10.

At home I just had to cut all the one-by twos and hammer them in place to finish the last structural work on the bed before retiring for a late afternoon of kayaking. Here is Jake testing the bed's strength.

That evening after returning I couldn't wait to get to upholstery, so I tried to see what I could do with some plywood scrap, some Super 77, and some upholstery foam I inherited from the same shop where I bought the planer, bandsaw, and the table saw. Apparently the stuff sticks damn good.

In the morning it was all about upholstery. Mike's Off-the-Cuff Dictionary defines Upholstery as turning hard furniture soft in a way that uses every staple in the shop. First, I needed to cut my foam blocks down to size. The blocks I had were four inches thick, and my headboard needed only two inches, so I needed to cut the blocks in half. I tried a whole slew (sloo? slough?) well, a lot of cutting devices; razor blades, joinery saws, hack saws, but you know what worked best? A Farberware bread knife from the kitchen. It took a bit of sawing, but it worked well.

Click here to download the cut foam desktop wallpaper!

Then the pieces were cut to size, glued together, and glued to the plywood backings. The seams were clean, and the edges were square. So far, upholstery was easy-peasy (peezy? pesey?) anyway, no real difficulty.

The next step called for wrapping the cushions in a layer of batting- I didn't know what that was either- followed by the upholstery fabric, both being stapled on all sides on the back, pulling it tight in a way to try to keep the edges straight.

The piece of fabric I had was a bit too small for me to cut two large pieces out of, so Monika helped me by cutting and sewing a couple smaller bits together.

A lot of stretching and about 200 staples later, I had both layers stretched over the cushion- no easy task since I had barely enough of each fabric. The main lesson I learned here- have extra fabric. If I had cut my pieces bigger I bet I could have made very straight edged cushions, but I'm still pretty happy with how they came out.

All-in-all I'd say getting started with some basic upholstery is easy- of course, these are just simple rectangles. I'm certain it gets more frustrating as you go up from there. The last bits left are finishing work- sealants, stains, and sanding. All to be done early next week.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mortising Overdrive

This time I have a good reason for not posting- I've been busy working. The last four days, I spent at least 7 hours working on this bed. Of course, I'm still not done. On Sunday, I re-built the bottom of the headboard with a design that would be a bit sturdier, and installed all the structural panels.

On Monday, I assembled all the parts and glued it together. Afterward, the piece felt sturdy, like a full piece of furniture for the first time!

Yesterday, I went and got some Douglas Fir 3x3s from Martin, as the one I had left from the futon was full of sap. A sappy piece of wood usually needs 6 months to a year to dry out and be usable. Unfortunately I only figured this out after I got sap all stuck in my tape measure.

This piece allowed me to finish up the framing yesterday afternoon and early this morning. Mortises drilled and glue drying, I needed to figure a way to hold up the mattress.

After perusing a few ideas, I settled on a simple one. Twenty-five one-by-twos spanning the two side rails. And to attach them, I could drill a series of mortises along the rails! Noticing a pattern?

I enjoy the mortising machine. I admit it. And I'm looking for more ways to use it. So today, I drilled 50 mortises, one after the other. I'm not ashamed. Ok, I may have a problem.

Then it was just a matter of hammering the one-by-twos into the mortises. And if I hadn't run out of them I'd be sleeping on it tonight!

Tomorrow I'll be getting the rest of them, and buying the stuff I will need for upholstering which should be an adventure in itself. I will let you all know how that goes.