Friday, April 4, 2014

URA to mull change to Visitor Center

Marketing Alliance wants to rent less space, cut costs

Express Staff Writer

Visitor Suzan Seelye, left, of Seattle, gets information on the area Wednesday afternoon at the Visitor Center in Ketchum, aided by Marketing Alliance employee Aly Swindley. Photo by Roland Lane

    The Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency unanimously agreed on Monday to pursue amending or possibly entirely rewriting the lease for the Visitor Center amid complaints from the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance.
    At issue is occupancy of the former bank building at the corner of Sun Valley Road and East Avenue. The URA owns the building and has been leasing it out to Starbucks and the Marketing Alliance, each of which occupies divided areas in an open floor layout.
    Marketing Alliance President Arlene Schieven told the board that the organization wants to only be in charge of 200 square feet of the building, an 80 percent decrease from the 1,000 square feet it currently leases.
    “We’ve done an analysis on our return of investment, and have outlined a space that would be more appropriate for our needs,” Schieven said. “We have more space than is needed, and the cost of serving each visitor is way higher than it needs to be.”
    Schieven said the main reason the Marketing Alliance wants a smaller space is to stabilize and reduce its costs in rent, utilities and overhead for the space. She said the organization is flexible in repositioning the 200 square feet it seeks control of to another part of the facility. The Marketing Alliance currently pays $1,000 a month in rent for its portion of the building.
    Marketing Alliance co-chair Marty Albertson shared even stronger sentiments bemoaning the organization’s difficulty with the site.
    “Our return of investment on the Visitor’s Center is horrendous,” Albertson said. “We can’t look at the taxpayers and say we’re giving them every return on their dollar possible. The business community likes having a visitor’s center here, so we are committed to retaining it, but we’re also committed to getting the most return that we can out of the taxpayers’ dollars relative to what our job is, which is to bring people here.”
    The URA also approved a temporary agreement with the marketing Alliance and Starbucks to give Starbucks both full control and full responsibility of the building when it holds events after business hours. Albertson said the Marketing Alliance does not have a key to the building, and does not want one because of potential liability issues.
    URA Commissioner Baird Gourlay said if the URA, the Marketing Alliance and Starbucks are not able to come to an agreement of redrawing the building’s boundaries in the lease, the board may opt to rewrite the lease entirely. One option is carving out space for a third tenant.
    “I would like to see a business come into the building that is profitable,” Gourlay said. “I don’t necessarily want to add in something that the government would have to subsidize.”
    Commissioner Jim Slanetz said he doesn’t foresee another retail business occupying the building, but did offer ideas for potential new tenants.
    “I think it could be great to rent to a real estate company like the Sawtooth Board of Realtors,” Slanetz said. “People are often afraid to go into real estate offices, but people will probably be more comfortable when they see one that is right in front of them.”
If the URA, the Marketing Alliance and Starbucks agree to add a third tenant to the lease, the city has the option to make a request for qualifications from potential businesses, followed by a request for proposal, or move straight to a request for proposal from potential applicants.
    “We’re not under any obligation to release the SVMA from its lease,” URA Chairman Mark Eshman said. “However, in the spirit of cooperation, we want to be good tenants and good neighbors. It would be a win-win for us to generate more out of this asset than we’re currently getting.”

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