Old museum and library sold to pot distributors
The Nome Common Council was one vote short of unanimously approving the sale of the former museum and library building on Front Street.
The building is appraised as worth $669,000. The minimum bid was set at $250,000. Mason Evans, who owns Grass Station 49 in Fairbanks with his brother Gary Evans, bid $351,000. Steve Arturo, owner of a process server company in Anchorage, underbid Evans at $250,000.
Mason Evans confirmed his intent Tuesday morning.
“I think, realistically, the process will take nine months to a year. This is our fourth license we have done now,” he said. “It’s a long and expensive process. With our experience and business model we have been able to withstand the process.”
The Evans brothers — not related to the Nome Evans family or Mason Evans who was born and raised in Nome — plan to convert the downstairs museum site into a marijuana products retail store. They want to put an eatery-coffee shop in the library upstairs. Does that mean museum displays will be blunts, consumer packages of marijuana, vaporizing equipment, pipes and paraphernalia? Will library shelves hold munchies? He knew that there wasn’t a stipulation in the surplus property offering on what the building could be used for, but was the public aware of how the high bidders intended to use the building? Councilman Mark Johnson wanted to know.
He didn’t know that the higher bidders’ intent was public knowledge, City Manager Tom Moran, said. But the high bidders, Grass Station 49 owners, were present at the bid opening that was open to the public and publicly indicated they were looking at a retail marijuana dispensary and a grow operation, Tom Moran said.
After a mild discussion on whether the City could dictate the use of the building after they put it up for auction without any prior strings attached, four council members voted to accept a high bid from Mason Evans of Fairbanks.
Councilman Stan Andersen, who ran the meeting in the absence of Mayor Richard Beneville, was for peddling the building. The bidding on the surplus property involved a public entity, Andersen said. “In a public entity, just because you don’t like the way a guy looks or what he’s doing, that doesn’t mean …” Andersen observed. “That was the sum total of what the City’s attorney said,” according to Moran.
Councilman Jerald Brown said while he didn’t favor marijuana, he recognized that using the building for a retail marijuana dispensary was legal. However, the voters passed the law. Marijuana is legal in Nome, it is state-wise legal, but not legal federal-wise, Brown reasoned. “I’m uncomfortable rejecting it just because it is something I don’t like,” Brown said. The City put the building out to bid, and couldn’t say “buy it for certain purposes.” “I think alcohol is a lot more damaging than pot,” Brown said.
Councilman Mark Johnson found use of the library-museum building for marijuana sales inappropriate. He also conceded a retail business in the museum would be legal.
“Given the historical positive influence that this building has given children and the community of Nome, it is very sad that we are now selling this historic building to be used to sell and promote drugs, which the children in Nome today and the future will have to deal with,” Johnson said, reading from his prepared statement. “I understand the sale of marijuana with proper licensing is legal in the State of Alaska and there are medicinal purposes of marijuana, but we as the elected City Council are supposed to do what is in the best interest of the city as a whole. “I personally feel the sale of this public building for use by this particular business interest is not looking out for what is in the best interest of the community of Nome, but more so in chase of the Almighty Dollar,” Johnson said. He further said that as the public notice said disposal would be by quitclaim to highest responsible bidder unless the City Council rejected all bids, that he would make a motion rejecting all bids for the museum property and put it back out to bid.
Johnson’s motion to amend the resolution to reject the bids for the museum building and accept the single bid on the single building lot that sold, died without a second.
“It’s going to cost money to keep it going,” Andersen said of cancelling the bids on the museum-library building. Tom Moran roughly estimated the building costs $20,000 annually for utilities and elevator maintenance while it sits empty. When the vote came, Councilmen Andersen, Brown, Doug Johnson and Adam Martinson voted yes; Councilman Mark Johnson voted no.
Calvin Schaeffer, who gave an address in the 700 block of East Third Avenue, bid $19,301 on building Lot 5A, Block 80 A, with assessed value of $19,300. Fifty-six other lots did not receive bids. The successful bidders have 10 days in which to pay for their properties.
Councilman Mark Johnson had also commented that the City was choosing to sell a public building in competition with local businesses and entities that were developing operations and seeking marijuana retail licenses.
Robin Thomas, taking the podium during the citizens’ comments period, went along. The guys who had won the bid on the museum-library building had a business in Fairbanks and more in the works. Marijuana businesses “were getting over capitalized and coming out here to make up the difference,” Thomas said.” Another big retailer to come in and take out all that money, that’s not for Nome. Don’t think you should be beholden to them just because they bought the [former] library.” His first application had been denied, but a second attempt would come before the state Marijuana Board on April 3, meeting in Nome, Thomas said.
Port rate increase?
In other business, the Council voted to take an ordinance approving the Port of Nome 2018 season tariff package from first reading to second reading at the next Council meeting.
An attempt to raise rates by three percent at a recent Port meeting failed 3-2 with two commissioners absent. Therefore the document came to the Council for approval from the Port advisory group without the three percent increase. The Council voted the tariff to second reading with the thought that it could be amended at second reading to show the three-percent increase within the document. This tariff, when adopted, will replace all previous tariff schedules.
The Port Commission vote on Feb. 15, nevertheless, showed mixed support for a rate increase, Joy Baker, port director, said in a memo to the Council.
“Clearly, rising costs for labor, fuel, engineering services, permitting compliance, insurance, maintenance, and repairs continue to impact operating expenses,” Baker wrote. “Additionally, the aging infrastructure is driving a growing list of deferred maintenance projects that can be addressed only as funds are available.”
A 2013 tariff rate study suggested a steeper pace of increases to address inflation and operating costs; and a 2017 port and harbor analysis by Lorraine Cordova, formerly of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, recommended implementing capital replacement fees, as well as annual increases based on the Anchorage Consumer Price Index, Baker’s memo said. Based on current state economic conditions and based on mixed support of commissioners for a three-percent increase, Baker suggested a half-a-loaf-better- than-none compromise. That would comprise rather than an across-the-board increase, raise dockage and wharfage by 1.5 percent; docking permits by 3 percent; amenities (except line handling) by three percent; winter and summer idle vessel layup status, no rate increase; and storage and water per gallon, no rate increase.
The increases will come under discussion when the ordinance on the 2018 tariff comes up for a final vote.
Robin Thomas addressed the port increase issue also. A higher tariff was fine, he said, but he would like to see improvements that match—adjustments in harbor lighting, washing machines, real plumbing instead of an outhouse at the port, for example. “You want [cruise boat passengers] to come in and use that stink ass facility? Whew!” Thomas said.
In other business, the Council approved a contract with Altman, Rogers, & Co. for audit services for the City’s spending year 2018. The firm has looked at the City’s books for the last 10 years and is a “highly rated firm,” Moran said.