Friday, March 25, 2011

Starbucks quarrel rages on

Opponents threaten lawsuit

Express Staff Writer

Opponents of Starbucks' relocation aren't backing down despite the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency's acceptance of Starbucks' proposal to move into the visitor center building.

The URA—which owns the building at Sun Valley Road and East Avenue—is now working on the lease terms, but a group of disgruntled Ketchum businesses may be mounting legal action, according to Lisa Rippo, an owner of Java coffee shops.

She said a lawyer has been hired and a petition would soon be circulated to gather signatures in support of the fight.

"Half the businesses in town are on board, even those not in the restaurant or coffee business," she said. "They understand that they wouldn't like it to happen to them."

She said she's now trying to capture proprietors' sentiments in the form of petition signatures.

Rippo and others have argued in URA meetings and letters to the URA that publicly owned buildings should not be rented to businesses but to community organizations such as nonprofits. The URA is separate from the city government but is still a public entity funded by property taxes and led by the same elected officials and two others.

"It's not just food and coffee businesses that are upset," said Kim Nalen, branch manager of Idaho Independent Bank. "We all are upset and fed up with big egos making decisions they have no business making and knowing the public is against it."

Rippo said the grounds of the lawsuit haven't been hashed out in detail yet but revolve around the URA's alleged failure to adhere to city ordinance and process. Resident Anne Corrock has repeatedly suggested to the URA that the city's "off-site vendor ordinance" prohibits leasing the publicly owned building to Starbucks.

The ordinance states that "[it] shall be unlawful for any person to engage in or conduct business in ... a public way," defining "public way" in part as the "interior and areas surrounding public buildings or other places owned in fee by the city of Ketchum."

Stephanie Bonney, attorney for the city and the URA, used the same ordinance to argue the contrary. She emphasized that the land must be owned by the city to fall under the ordinance. The visitor center is owned by the URA, a separate entity.

"It's clearly not applicable," Bonney said. "There's not even any gray language in this."

She argued that even if the city owned the visitor center, its actions would still be legal.

"The mere fact that a public agency owns a building does not make it a public building," she said, adding that the building has to be used for a government function.

She offered the example of a government housing authority, which owns homes but leases them to people, a private use.

Nevertheless, she said, the issue is moot for now because the URA hasn't yet signed a lease with Starbucks. The store wouldn't be corporation owned and operated but would be the venture of a local investor group, the Cairde Group.

URA works toward Starbucks lease

Before the lease terms can be established, the URA has to first determine the extent of infrastructure upgrades, such as heating/air conditioning and water pipes, needed in the 40-year-old building. After those are done, Starbucks would move in and start its aesthetic remodeling.

URA board member and Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall said an architect has been hired to determine the extent of the URA-funded building upgrades needed. He said a request for bids would then be put out, asking for price estimates due in about a week.

Cairde Group's plan entails using 1,900 square feet of the ground floor, 700 square feet more than the URA advertised. Greg Randolph, manager of the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce and the visitor center that would share the building, said negotiations are underway to figure out the division of space, but claimed a compromise amenable to both parties is likely.

Hall said he understands the reason for the issue's having become a "controversy."

"The emotions and hype are the product of financial stress," he said, but pointed out that Starbucks is just moving.

Plus, its current Main Street and Sun Valley Road location most likely wouldn't be left vacant. The property manager, George Kirk, said he has received several offers from different kinds of businesses wanting Starbucks' space once it leaves.

Starbucks relocation would increase services

If Starbucks moves into the visitor center building, it would have 1,900 square feet of space, 100 square feet less than it now has on the corner of Sun Valley Road and Main Street. However, it plans to offer patrons much more.

"We will be offering regional beer and wine selections as well as locally sourced baked goods," reads the application. "We will be showcasing local talent through art displays, poetry readings and music."

Cairde Group, which would own and operate the franchise, also provided a timeline, planning to open the location on June 27 after receiving the go-ahead and undertaking an extensive remodel.

"Our plan is to upgrade the building with geothermal heating and cooling, heated pavers and solar panels," reads the application.

The interior design will be based on Starbucks' Heritage model, implemented in only four other Starbucks. The Heritage design is meant to echo the first Starbucks in Seattle's historic Pike Place Market, using a lot of wood and materials beckoning back to a simpler time. Design elements include a fireplace, soft seating, café seating and a wine/beer bar and kitchen.

Trevon Milliard:

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