Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Starbucks bucked by restaurateurs

Noon meeting today to address lease of Visitor Center space


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Times are tough for restaurateurs in Ketchum. Some see a conflict of interest over the city's planned lease of space at the Ketchum Visitor Center on Sun Valley Road to a Starbucks café franchise.

The city's Urban Renewal Agency, which owns the building, will hold a special meeting at noon today, March 16, in Ketchum City Hall to review a proposal by Starbucks to relocate two blocks east to the Ketchum Visitor Center from its current location on Main Street.

Community and Economic Development Director Lisa Horowitz said the city sent out a request for proposals six weeks ago to restaurateurs in the area who may want to rent the 1,200-square-foot space.

"Five responded and all of them were local, established companies," Horowitz said. "Three of them were serious, but only one applied for the space."

The lone applicant was Starbucks.

Peter Prekeges, the owner of Grumpy's Burgers and Beer, organized a letter-writing campaign to the URA last week, enlisting the support of more than two dozen Ketchum restaurant owners who have asked the agency to rethink the decision.

Prekeges wrote in an e-mail this week that he believes Starbucks got preferential treatment from the URA by having an earlier look at the premises for lease than others who responded to the request for proposals since February.

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Horowitz denied that Starbucks had been notified earlier about the current proposal to rent the space to a food vendor. She said several real estate brokers had shown interest in renting the space in the $3.2 million building for the last two years, but she had no idea how long Starbucks representatives had been looking.

Prekeges wrote that the taxpayer-funded URA should not be in competition with private property owners for tenants. He also said a conflict of interest exists because the lead person for the new Starbucks, Jane Rizzo, sits on the board of Sun Valley Marketing Alliance, which oversees the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce and the visitor center.

Horowitz said she has had conversations with Prekeges on the issues and that he and the Ketchum URA have "philosophical differences" that will be explored as the URA moves forward in consideration of the Starbucks proposal.

"There is nothing illegal about what the URA is doing," Horowitz said. "The URA has fiduciary responsibility to fill the building."

Lisa Rippo, co-owner of Java café on Fourth Street, said in an e-mail to the Idaho Mountain Express that the investors backing a local Starbucks franchise should buy the taxpayer-purchased building outright.

"This will alleviate what is today a liability to the city, and then, the taxes that will be collected from the sale, and future use, will go to our local police & fire departments, schools, roads and local economy," Rippo wrote.

"My problem with it [Starbucks] is that it will be in our taxpayer-owned Visitors/Chamber of Commerce building that is supposed to serve all of us, a place where we pay dues to promote our business. I know I will be pulling my Chamber membership if this passes."

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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