Wednesday, April 6, 2011

URA steps back from Starbucks lease

Agency reissues request for proposals

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum's Urban Renewal Agency is taking a step backward from its controversial decision to lease part of the visitor center to Starbucks.

However, it's not backing down from its plan to lease the publicly owned building to a private company—Starbucks or not—which is the main sticking point of opposition. A petition against renting the public property to Starbucks, or any private company, has attracted the signatures of 500 local proprietors and residents. Petition organizers also hired a lawyer, Alexander McLaughlin, and threatened to file a lawsuit if the URA doesn't stop trying to lease the space to a private company, not requesting money but an injunction forcing the URA to stop.

The URA's latest move, announced Friday, means the process will be redone for requesting proposals from anyone, including Starbucks, who wants to operate a business in the building on the corner of Sun Valley Road and Main Street. However, the URA is no longer limiting applicants to food/beverage providers as it did last time when it received only one application, Starbucks. Application deadline is Monday.

"We thought, to be completely equitable and fair, we should put it out one more time," said URA Chair Mark Eshman, claiming the request for proposals is being redone to give everyone a chance to apply.

He said it's not being redone to make sure the URA's actions are legally sound.

"There's absolutely no legal question about our actions," he said.

McLaughlin disagrees about the legality of the URA's plans, regardless of whether the request for proposals is redone. He sent an ultimatum to the URA on March 25 on behalf of the Ketchum businesses that hired him:

"This letter is intended to put the URA on notice that if it does not cease all efforts ... in leasing the Visitors Center to the Cairde Group [investors backing the Starbucks franchise] or any other private commercial entity, this firm will immediately institute litigation against the URA," the letter states

McLaughlin said in an interview that the URA's decision to redo the request for proposals doesn't change the opposition's position.

"They do want to move forward with a lawsuit [if a private company rents the space]," he said.

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Whether the resistance follows through on its threat will soon be realized. The URA gave those interested until April 11 to present their proposals for using, at most 1,900 square feet, half of the ground floor. Mayor Randy Hall, also a URA board menber, said the agency would then choose one of the applicants at its April 12 meeting.

"This is the last shot," Hall said. "It won't be redone again."

The request for proposals requires a five-year lease, and states that the business must pay for remodeling (not including infrastructure improvements, such as plumbing and electrical) and open by July 4. It states that even though the URA has broadened the kinds of businesses it will consider, it will judge applicants based on whether they would generate traffic into the visitor center, which shares the ground floor.

Trevon Milliard:

URA to host public discussion on plan

The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency will host a town hall meeting called "The 491 Building: Good for Business, Good for our Community" from 7-8 p.m. today, April 6, at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum. At the meeting—which URA officials say is the first in a series of public discussions about the URA—URA board members plan to discuss the role of the agency, the laws governing URAs, and how the agencies can work to try to stimulate an economy.

Mark Eshman, a new board member of the URA, said URA officials will also discuss the URA's purchase of the downtown commercial building at 491 Sun Valley Road, which houses the city's visitor center. Representatives of the chamber of commerce and the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance will discuss the overall vision for the visitor center. The meeting is scheduled to end with a short question-and-answer session.

Eshman said in an interview Monday that the URA's goal for the building is to complete needed renovations before bringing in a paying tenant to share the first floor with the visitor center.

"We need something to drive traffic to the visitor center," he said.

Mayor Randy Hall—URA boardmember—said he views the project as an opportunity for the URA to stimulate business activity in the city's commercial core. He said he does not believe leasing part of the building to a paying commercial tenant would hurt existing businesses.

"Our motive here is to grow the pie so the pieces get bigger," he said.

Eshman agreed. "The question is, 'How do we best position Ketchum for the new world, the new economy.' ... We think this is kind of a win-win."

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