Mary Jo Oxrieder works on giftcards at her business Raven Rocks Gallery she owns with partner Windwalker Taibi. The pair, who lease space at Greenbank Farm, said they are happy with recent rate decisions by the Port of Coupeville. Photo by Megan Hansen/Whidbey News-Times

Port finally settles on tenant lease rates

At least one more tenant plans to leave Greenbank Farm after learning of the increased rents the Port of Coupeville will be charging over the next several years.

Janet King, a member of Artworks Gallery, a cooperative, said Thursday members aren’t happy with the new rates and are looking at other options to move the gallery.

Other tenants said they are happy with the new rates and are optimistic about a bright future ahead at the farm.

Port commissioners agreed last week to three-year lease rates after months of discussion, a property appraisal and community debate.

Staff and the board received data from the EDC and from a previous commissioner, said Commissioner John Mishasek. “We’re getting a lot of data points.

“(Now) we need to create some data points that are unique for the Greenbank Farm and establish for the wharf.”

Tenants had voiced displeasure over the port’s appraisal of the property, saying it wasn’t done well and wasn’t complete.

“In hindsight the person did go by the book,” Mishasek said. “Not all the boxes got checked off all that nicely.”

Several Greenbank Farm tenants reaffirmed previous comments, wanting commissioners to take into account the lack of foot traffic, new vacancies and the rocky relationship tenants have had with the port when considering rate increases.

“A rate increase is likely to put us out of business,” King said at the meeting. “It’s an uphill battle to scoot by. We believe the rate we’re paying now is fair with the 4 percent increase we agreed to.”

Windwalker Taibi, who owns Raven Rocks Gallery with Mary Jo Oxrieder, said he’d like to sign a long-term lease.

“Our position is that we can withstand a modest increase,” Taibi said. “We’d like to sign on for another five years. We believe in what we’re doing at the farm. We’ve established something good and we’d like to keep it.

“We have to come to some kind of consensus. It’s been long and contentious and it doesn’t have to be any longer.”

Commissioners haggled back and forth, debating mostly about five-cent increases in retail rates and the length of lease rates.

Commissioner Bob Monroig wanted to offer five-year lease rates.

“I don’t think five years is appropriate,” William Bell said. “Three years is more appropriate.”

They threw out options like a 20 percent discount for an anchor tenant.

Overall, Bell said he wasn’t pleased with the numbers being discussed and had wanted to see them closer to contemporary rates.

“We have a lot of work to get it up to where we need to be,” he said.

Farm tenants are now paying anywhere from 48 to 84 cents per square foot in addition to a 12.84 percent leasehold tax.

Ultimately, commissioners agreed to Greenbank lease rates at 80 cents for retail space, 70 cents for office space, 60 cents for storage, 30 cents for unimproved, 55 cents for the anchor tenant (Whidbey Pies Cafe) and 60 cents for the commercial kitchen. The maximum lease will be three years with an exception for the Whidbey Camano Land Trust which requires a five-year lease.

At Coupeville Wharf, tenants will be paying 95 cents for retail space and the seasonal kayak rental space will be charged 30 cents as unimproved. Some of the tenants, The Salty Mug and Collections, currently have higher rates and adjustments will be made, commissioners said. Tenants at the wharf don’t pay a leasehold tax because they are within the historical reserve.

Increases will be incremental for tenants who sign multi-year leases so they’re not hit with an increase all at once.

“It gives time for the tenant to do the things it needs to do and time for the port to get things done like the comp plan,” Mishasek said.

King said Thursday that the increase to 80 cents would be 15 cents for her gallery, but really it would bring the gallery to 90 cents if you factor in the leasehold tax tenants are required to pay.

A five-cent difference between what retail tenants at the wharf pay versus what farm tenants are paying with leasehold tax is not fair, she said. The farm doesn’t get the foot traffic the wharf does.

“I’m kind of in a wait-and-see mode until it’s put down on paper,” said Erin Stonefelt, owner of Greenbank Cheese Specialty Foods &Gifts. “I was pretty pleased with the outcome because it’s not going to affect me very much.

“All of this stress didn’t turn out as devastating as we all expected.”

Stonefelt said she does have some questions about her square footage and would like some maintenance repairs addressed before signing a new lease.

Both Stonefelt and Taibi said they would have liked to sign five-year leases.

One thing Stonefelt said is she’s confident once signing a new lease, she can make bigger orders, and she looks forward to events coming back to the farm with the help of the Friends of the Greenbank Farm.

“I’m optimistic and hopeful and pretty pleased,” she said.

While two of the three retail spaces look to be vacating in Barn C, Oxrieder said that won’t detour her and partner Taibi.

“We just love it here,” she said. “We have customers from all over the world who know where we are, and there’s more to the farm than retail space. It’s a beautiful piece of property. “

Oxrieder said she’s looking forward to working with the port and seeing the progress staff and commissioners are making because they are being “logical, reasonable, making good decisions.”

“They’ve got a plan.”