By Marty Trese, KnoxPages.com Editor
MOUNT VERNON - Those who have been following the Sips coffee house saga and their lack of a lease in the Woodward Opera House buiding after March 31 may not know a few of the sticking points preventing an agreement between the two parties.
A letter was sent to Sips in October outlining the conditions of a new lease. Letters have gone back and forth discussing those conditions and an extension was granted until the end of March.
KnoxPages.com sat down with Larry Grindle, president of the Woodward Development Corporation (WDC), as well as Chuck Kindel, WDC treasurer, and Sandy Crow, fiscal agent. The restoration/renovation project's price tag stands at about $16 million so far. Due to the receipt of "Saving Americas Treasures" money, tax credits, and other grants the Woodward building renovation project must meet certain conditions or thresholds. There are many requirements, restrictions and rules. Those restrictions include things such as where pictures can be hung, kinds of wallpaper that can be used, and what kinds of windows are allowed. Sips attorney Jack Moser says that Sips is willing to meet all the rules and restrictions concerning historic preservation in the space.
Patrons enjoying Sips on Saturday afternoon - KP Photo by Marty Trese
Grindle says Sips has had problems with water from their equipment on the first floor leaking to the basement. The basement will eventually house $500,000 worth of heating, ventilation and cooling equipment. Moser says the WDC is requiring a "wet kitchen" in the basement. Moser says he has asked for a definition of wet kitchen and that Sips is willing to meet that requirement.
Grindle says there is not another tenant waiting to immediately occupy the space currently occupied by Sips. The space will be shut down for 60 to 90 days for renovations in 2016, whether Sips stays or not. The flooring needs to be replaced and a new 10 foot door and two windows will be added that will look or lead out into a planned promenade.
The two sides have been unable to agree on a lease time frame for Sips. Moser says Sips is seeking a 10 year lease, with automatic renewal for two five-year terms, effectively a 20 year lease. Grindle says WDC is not going to provide a 20 year lease. If the two parties get a a basic understanding of the minimum requirements WDC could offer a five year lease. It appears that those discussions as to term of a lease can't happen until the two sides achieve an understanding of the thresholds, restrictions, and requirements of being in the space.
Kindel said,"There's a perception that we have all this money now and we're going to be helping everybody. That's wrong. Our organization is supporting the arts. We are not subsidizing businesses. The whole idea of Sips, and all of the rental properties within this two building complex, is that they will provide income that allows us to support local arts organizations using the three venues we are building."
It appears the two sides have differing views of what supporting the arts, or arts organizations, means.
Moser said "Since its inception Sips has gone out of its way to support the arts - musicians, poets, authors, public speaking through town hall meetings - if that's not supporting the arts, I don't know what is." Moser continued, "If WDC has additional expectations as to what supporting the arts means we are more than open to hear what they have to say."
A petition has been signed by Sips supporters in hopes of the business's survival in the space. Sandy Crow said, "Sips is choosing not to be here. It's their choice."
As for the Woodward Opera House as a whole, construction manager and WDC secretary Pat Crow says, "We're developing a capital campaign to begin later this year. We want people to participate by purchasing seats in the theater and naming rights for the promenade, black box theater, recital hall, and conference rooms." News releases will be coming out soon explaining the scope of the campaign and more detailed plans for the opera house.