At the Port of Friday Harbor Commissioners’ meeting on Nov. 8, business owners voiced concerns that visitors are not drawn to the spaces on the first level of the Spring Street Landing building.
“I am looking for you guys to be partners, as we discussed after the building burned down,” said Brian Goodremont, owner of San Juan Safaris, a whale watch company located on the building’s first level, beneath the restaurant Downriggers.
Goodremont told the commissioners at that meeting, which was held in one of the building’s vacant spaces, that pedestrian traffic once made up 22 percent of his business. This season, walk-ins only accounted for 2 percent, which was a $100,000 drop in revenue.
Commissioners Greg Hertel, Barbara Marrett and newly sworn-in Commissioner Graham Black, tossed around ideas for improving traffic flow including creative crosswalk designs. Hertel suggested painting a yellow brick road. Other ideas included making the sidewalk and parking area, left of the building, more inviting for pedestrians to draw them into the lower businesses.
Providing additional signage in several locations, like Circle Park, was proposed by Port Executive Director Todd Nicholson. Signs would include pictures illustrating problem areas, primarily when approaching the building from the marina, but also from Spring Street.
Town staff has tried to avoid a proliferation of signs via ordinances, meaning the port is analyzing the best locations for posting.
“I’m not against sandwich boards,” said Nicholson, “What I would not want to see is a dozen of them.”
Signs may be a Band-Aid on a larger problem. Hertel brought up the fact that demographics are changing.
“People are using smartphones and planning ahead of time,” he said adding that people are not walking around town to shop.
“It’s true, people don’t want to wait in lines, now that they can check in with their phones, there really is no need for our business to have an office anymore,” said Johannes Krieger, owner of Crystal Seas Kayaking, which has a two-year lease with the port for a space on the building’s first level.
“What I think should really sink into you is that a retail business wouldn’t last down here and that if we [whale watching and kayak companies] don’t need an office, the only reason we would want a space is for retail,” Krieger added.
Marrett asked if Goodremont had been able to recover lost revenue in other areas, like online booking.
“Am I making up for that loss? Yes. But in order to do that, I have to spend money,” Goodremont replied.
Goodremont also discussed the port’s lease terms. He explained that when the leases for the current space were originally negotiated, he was never provided with a correct fair market value assessment and that rates were only discussed during an executive session, leaving business owners, like himself, with little input or understanding.
“I guess I’m just still frustrated and feeling stung by that process,” said Goodremont adding that he is paying the highest rate per square foot in Friday Harbor.
Goodremont continued that after talking to lawyers and commercial real estate agents, he learned that a fair market value assessment would compare to spaces in San Juan County only, while the assessment done by the port included comparisons from Seattle, Bellingham and Anacortes as well as San Juan County.
The port commissioners agreed to discuss completing an assessment at a later date.
“This space [where the meeting was held] has remained empty and we really want to fill it. The lease rate is probably one of the barriers,” said Marrett.
“I think it’s really cool that you guys, it sounds like, are willing to work on these issues,” Krieger said.