New lease puts U.S. Customs office in heart of downtown Friday Harbor

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will move into office space in the heart of downtown Friday Harbor sometime next year.

Gordy Petersen, owner of Friday Harbor Center, located at the intersection of First and Spring streets, and CBP public information officer Chief Thomas Schreiber each confirmed that a lease has been signed and that CBP would relocate from its office at the Port of Friday Harbor "in 2014."

Petersen anticipates CBP will be operating in the street-level office space by "mid-summer."

"This is good for the town and good for the nation," Petersen said. "These people are our neighbors. They are protecting our community and people should respect that."

Once occupied by Windermere Realty and currently the home of Howard's Sell it Again, the 4,500 square foot retail will be used to house Customs and Border Patrol agents now working out of leased space at the Port.

Although Schreiber would not disclose specific information about the functions or number of employees of the Friday Harbor office, he did send an e-mail describing "field operations" of the CPB, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security:

"CBP officers perform the full range of inspection, passenger and cargo analysis, examination and law enforcement activities relating to revenue and trade, seizure of contraband, interdiction of agricultural pests and diseases and admissibility of persons at 331 ports of entry located at airports, sea ports and land borders."

Which of these functions, if any, will be performed at the new First and Spring streets office was not disclosed.

Friday Harbor is one of 67 U.S. ports of entry managed by the Seattle Field Office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. CBP officers have operated out of rented space at the Port of Friday Harbor since 1978. That space, about 660 square feet, is rented to CBP for $1,473 per month under a lease that expires in May, 2014, according to port Director Marilyn O'Conner.

O'Conner said the port has had no communication from CBP about terminating or renewing the current lease, which, she added, the port is willing to do.

Friday Harbor Center was built by Petersen in 2004, after one of the most destructive fires in town history leveled most of the east side of First St., between Spring and East streets. Peterson said the total rebuild of block, which comprises 24,000 square feet of commercial space, cost roughly $3.8 million.

Windermere Realty occupied the space until 2010 at a lease rate "in the range of $8,000 to $10,000 per month," according to Windermere's Gary Franklin, who believes that commercial lease rates were "probably" still in that range for the property. Petersen declined to identify the amount that CBP would pay, although he termed the figure mentioned above as "incorrect."

Howard Crowell and Rebecca Hughes opened Howard's Sell It Again in the space in early 2011, at a reduced rent with the understanding that they might be displaced if a full-paying tenant agreed to lease the space. Crowell said they were pleased with the location and the support of both visitors and locals, but he "understood completely" that their tenancy would be terminated if Petersen found a long-term, full-paying tenant.

O'Conner said it's unclear whether CBP intends to retain office space at the port. She said the port has been discussing with CBP about its requirements for space at the airport.

In addition to inspections and security duties in Friday Harbor, Customs and Border Patrol agents are assigned to Roche Harbor to check and clear boats arriving from Canada, and operates a small kiosk at the Friday Harbor marina for boat and seaplane arrivals.


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