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Buildings stand out by fitting in

Ashland developer's new project gets its first tenant

ASHLAND -- John Fields first made a name for himself as president of the Friends of Ashland, working to control growth in this small tourist town.

Now, he's making a different kind of mark on Ashland development through a handful of standout commercial buildings in and around downtown.

For the longest time I used to complain about what other people were doing, admitted Fields. I thought we could guide development through great ordinances.

Then he decided to put his money and building experience to work toward those principles. The result has been commercial projects that look as if they always have been there, only they're new: the brick building at Main and Second streets, both the new and remodeled Ashland Hardware buildings on A Street and, most recently, two mixed-use masonry buildings at Oak and Hersey streets.

This latest project -- the new home of the Furniture Depot -- perches prominently between the Hersey Street industrial area, home of Darex, and the retail-dominated downtown.

Fields said he didn't feel he was taking any risk in building a commercial building so far out of the downtown on the site of a former railroad worker's dilapidated house.

The demand is huge for clean, modern office space, said Fields. People have successful businesses. They want to feel good about being at work.

The match was great for Furniture Depot owners Sheryl and Loren Clear, who helped design and then purchased one of the 9,000-square-foot buildings from Fields.

After taking over the unfinished furniture business six years ago and gradually turning it into a more upscale, complete furniture store, the Clears needed more space than their previous location at Fourth and A streets in the railroad district.

Already, they said, sales and foot traffic have increased. They expect even more foot traffic once the Oak Street Tank and Steel building is turned into an artisans marketplace and the city completes a sidewalk and street improvement project on Oak Street.

The project will include a traffic signal at its intersection with Hersey.

This (corner) is going to become this real hub, said Fields, who makes his home just a few blocks down Oak Street. Access to the furniture store's parking lot -- currently a gravel driveway -- eventually will become a new road into the yet-undeveloped railroad land east of the tracks.

Once the second building is completed in November, a financial services firm, a developer and an attorney will move in. Two upstairs apartments have also been leased. Fields is hoping he can find another retail store or restaurant to fill the remaining space so the project will retain a public feel.

For their part, the owners of the Furniture Depot say they didn't find any space that compared with Fields' project.

We wanted to be involved with someone who ... cares about the town, is conscious of growth and is a conscientious builder, said Loren Clear.

Sheryl Clear compares the building's eclectic combination of design elements to her business's furniture offerings -- a little bit of urban, some country with an emphasis on classic designs and hardwood.

You synthesize ideas from other places and make it feel like Ashland, she said. I think it's very unique.

The Furniture Depot is the first tenant in John Fields' new commercial development in Ashland. The project provides modern office space between the Hersey Street industrial area and retail-dominated downtown. - Photo by Bob Pennell