Coupeville Town Council assigned a committee to review use and rate structures at the Rec Hall.
The committee was appointed after Mayor Molly Hughes raised concerns about increasing use of the hall by off-island, for-profit businesses.
“I believe it’s becoming a more and more frequent occurrence,” Hughes told the council.
“The rec hall is reserved all the time. It’s getting harder for nonprofits and individuals to have an event (there).”
In a staff report to the council, Hughes highlighted concern about a recent pop-up restaurant that was held at the rec hall for three days.
“This is in direct competition with our local restaurants who pay property taxes, sales tax, B&O taxes and provide year-round employment,” Hughes wrote.
During last Tuesday’s council meeting, Hughes said she’d discussed the pop up with some of the restaurant owners in town.
Hughes noted the restaurant owners were very aware when the pop up was happening.
One Coupeville restaurant owner mentioned they wouldn’t mind having a pop up during the summer months when the town is busy.
During the peak season, the restaurant has people waiting out the door. During the shoulder season, they’re trying to fill seats.
It was suggested to have a different rental rate for for-profit businesses.
“It’s a cheap place to run a business out of,” Hughes said. “A restaurant can come in and pay $150 a day to run a restaurant.”
Other noted business endeavors mentioned included an Oriental rug vendor from Seattle that is renting four times a year and an off-island dance instructor who rents the Rec Hall every Wednesday night.
“That’s 14 percent of all available evening reservations,” Hughes noted.
One area of rec hall use Hughes said was a gray area was an artists group that runs art sales through the rec hall.
“Whidbey Allied Artists are also renting more and more often,” Hughes wrote in a staff report for council.
“They currently reserved three weekends in the first six months of the year.”
“I do not believe this group is a nonprofit, I believe them to be a coalition of artists without brick and mortars, setting up for profit.”
This is untrue, responded artist Mary Alice Sterling.
Sterling, a Whidbey Allied Artist member, attended the meeting after hearing the group’s intentions were being questioned.
Allied Artists is an educational, nurturing nonprofit organization, Sterling said. Its intent is to mentor young artists and help them learn how to frame and market their art.
While the group is a nonprofit organization, profits from the sales benefit the individual artists.
Even though they are local artists, there have been complaints from a brick and mortar gallery in town, Hughes said.
“They feel it is unfair competition.”
Councilwoman Christine Crowell volunteered to serve on a committee to review the issues.
She expressed concern about singling out nonprofits and questioning what kind of nonprofit they are.
Councilwoman Pat Powell also volunteered to serve on the committee.
“I find it irritating to try and get the Rec Hall, and all the good nights are taken,” Powell said. “Bringing in Oriental rugs is odd to me. There’s something not right.”
Crowell and Powell will work with Town Clerk Kelly Beech to explore options for possible rate restructuring for off-island use and commercial use.
“The Rec Hall is meant to be used and it is,” Hughes said. “It’s busy, but I want our people to be able to use it.”