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Out with the old, in with some new tenants at Port's new building

In 2013, Port of Friday Harbor Commissioners passed a resolution declaring their intent to "give the first opportunity to enter into new leases" to the tenants who were displaced by the August 2013 fire that destroyed 'Downrigger's' building. Port Commissioner Mike Ahrenius said, "We will go to everyone who is in that building and make sure that they have first right of refusal."

Asked March 23, 2016 why that wasn't done, Ahrenius said, "Times change."

Prior to the August 2013 fire, Downriggers occupied the top floor of the building. On the lower level, there were six spaces occupied by five businesses. Friday Harbor Marine had two spaces, San Juan Safaris, San Juan Excursions, Friday Harbor Dive and Friday Harbor Yachts each had one. 

In a letter to tenants in September 2013, Port Executive Director Marilyn O'Connor reiterated the Commissioners' intent.

"As the Commission of the Port of Friday Harbor noted in its August 28, 2013 meeting, the current tenants of the Spring Street Landing Building will be given the first opportunity to lease space in the building (new or repaired) once it is ready for leasing.

The Port did not send out notices or contact all of the tenants. Instead they posted a request for proposals on the Port's website. At the March 23, 2016 meeting, Port staff stated erroneously that a legal notice about the RFP was also published.  No legal notice was published in the newspaper. No press release or legal notice was received by online media regarding the RFP.  

The replacement building will hold three businesses in five spaces on the lower level.  San Juan Safaris and Buchanan Cruises will each have two spaces. San Juan Excursions will have one. The owner of Buchanan Cruises is married to  Executive Director of San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau Deborah Hopkins Buchanan. Port Commissioner Barbara Marrett is employed by the Visitor's Bureau.   

Downriggers Restaurant will occupy the top level. 

Mike Close of Friday Harbor Marine, who has continued to lease $2,000 worth of moorage space while waiting for the building to reopen, is upset that he wasn't informed the Port was signing leases. 

Close believes “the reasons are due to blatant conflicts of interest of the Port Commission, and retaliation for a lawsuit over the cause of the fire. We have requested that the Port engage in mediation to try and resolve the issue prior to litigation.” Close believes lack of proper pest control by the Port was responsible for the fire. His suit was dismissed in court. 

Ahrenius said the Port would meet in executive session to discuss if they will enter into arbitration. 

O'Connor said leasing was discussed at 27 different Port meetings. The minutes from 2015 and 2016 are posted on the Port's website. Discussions specifically about the leasing process are posted in the February 25,  2015 and May 7, 2015 meeting minutes. 

Marrett said the Port assumed Close wasn't interested in a space after they received an email from him saying the spaces wouldn't work for him. He replied that the email was sent in the context of his preference to lease the space formerly held by U.S. Customs. That space ended up going to the Port maintenance department.

According to Port observers, it's no secret that Close and the Port aren't the best of friends.

At the end of the March 23, 2016 meeting, Marrett said, "We are allowed to select tenants we believe will get along with the others ... and will treat us with respect... We are allowed to choose those people." 



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