Chamber moves up

Council OKs relocation to front of Powerhouse

KINGMAN - The Kingman City Council on Monday agreed to rent half the office space formerly occupied by the City Attorney's staff to the Kingman Area Chamber of Commerce, granting the Chamber's longtime wish for a more prominent location within the Powerhouse building at 120 W. Andy Devine Ave.

Speaking for the Chamber, board chairman Brian Harris gave two main reasons the Chamber sought to relocate from its current location in the building's western section.

The noise from trains, he said, was one issue, since passing locomotives often made it difficult for the Chamber's office workers to conduct business over the phone without having to interrupt conversations to wait for the trains to pass. The other reason, he said, was that the Chamber essentially serves as the city's face to prospective businesses, and that should require the Chamber to have a more visible, upscale location within the building.

"The image of the Chamber, I think, is quite important to the community because, for people looking to relocate their businesses or their family here, it's probably one of the first places they go to get information and materials," Harris said.

"This would be a much more attractive location and would put together I think a more professional image that what we're currently in."

The Chamber didn't get its way without a fight, however. Following Harris' remarks, Councilwoman Robin Gordon noted that the Chamber was only looking to rent half the 1,824 square feet of available office space.

She wondered if the city shouldn't first try to find another tenant interested in renting the full space before letting the Chamber have half.

"Currently, the city contributes over $100,000 a year to keep that building open," Gordon said. "So I think it's really important that we make sure the decision we make is in the best interests, financially, of the city."

Councilwoman Carole Young agreed with Gordon, adding that she disagreed with the new 36-month contract term proposed by the Chamber when its existing contract was for 42 months.

City Manager Jack Kramer said this is the first time in a while the Powerhouse has had that much space for rent. He added that, of the few rental inquiries he's received over the past year, none of them were for anywhere near the total square footage available.

Councilman Kerry Deering seized on Kramer's comment, noting that, due to the poor economy, rental properties were currently widely available and very competitively priced. He said Council should be careful attempting to withhold the office space from the Chamber in hopes of attracting a bigger tenant that, in all likelihood, wasn't going to show up anytime soon.

"It is important to have the Chamber accessible - nice office, friendly people," he said. "On the other hand, the Powerhouse is a fiscal responsibility for the city, so it's a tough call."

Vice Mayor Janet Watson argued that the city could agree to lease half the space to the Chamber, then, if a client wishing to rent the whole space shows up, the city could take advantage of the lease agreement's 90-day escape clause and kick the Chamber out to make room for the bigger tenant. Young claimed to do that would be unfair to the Chamber, especially considering its significance to the city. Gordon suggested Council table the discussion and actively solicit renters for the whole space before letting the Chamber settle into it, only to risk getting booted out a few months later.

But these concerns were shrugged off by Chamber board member and local property manager Vince Holton, who argued that the reality of the rental market in Mohave County was such that the city should be happy to have any prospective tenants at all, much less one willing to pay 85 cents a square foot, which is what the Chamber agreed to.

"Everybody in town that's looking for space is downsizing," Holton said. "Everywhere you look, there's vacancies - all over Kingman, all over Havasu, all over Bullhead - no matter where you go."

For that reason, Holton said, the city would have an easier time trying to rent the office space in separate pieces rather than try to fill the whole thing with one tenant. He added that the Chamber of Commerce effectively served as the city's "receptionist" to the outside world, and as such, its appearance was "absolutely paramount."

"The (Chamber's) current location in the Powerhouse is a dump, to put it simply," he said. "We need a more upscale, more modern, more attractive place to do business."

Deering asked Chamber CEO Beverly Liles if she could see the Chamber needing the full office space at some time in the future if it expands. Liles said she couldn't foresee anything of the sort at present. Deering then speculated that the remaining office space might still be easier to rent out, since having a spot right next to the Chamber of Commerce could be seen as a selling point.

But Liles was quick to note that the Chamber's responsibility is to represent all of its members, not just one. For that reason, she dissuaded Council's suggestion that a high-profile Realtor or other competitive business should take up residence next door.

Ultimately, Ray Lyons made a motion to approve the lease agreement for half the space, with Watson seconding. Carole Young requested the length of the agreement be modified to 42 months rather than the 36 proposed by the Chamber, to which Liles agreed. The motion passed 7-0.