Zoe Underground and the Interfaith House, both leasers of a historic building on the north end of campus, have received notices to evict the building by the end of April.
The current owner, Synod of Alaska-Northwest, is a Presbyterian oversight council that manages religious institutions across the Pacific Northwest.
The building was put up for sale by the Synod, and WSU won the final bid on March 21, said Mike Wagoner, Zoe’s owner.
“Ever since we’ve been here WSU has wanted this property,” Wagoner said. “They can’t stand it that they don’t own it because it’s right in the middle of their property.”
Synod attorneys posted an eviction notice on Zoe’s door on April 10, stating Zoe’s needed to be vacated in 20 days, Wagoner said.
Synod declined to comment.
Wagoner said he opened the current location of Zoe’s in the Interfaith House in 2008.
Synod bought the current Interfaith House building 50 years ago. Immediately after, the Common Ministry Council (CMC) began management and have been the landlords of the owners for 49 years, he said.
When Wagoner entered into the lease agreement it was year-to-year leases, but three years ago he said he needed at least a five-year lease. CMC gave Zoe’s a three-year lease that ends on Dec. 31, 2014.
Wagoner said he got a letter from the Synod stating the CMC did not have the authority to lease to Zoe’s, claiming the lease was a known void and they needed to vacate.
“(The CMC) were flabbergasted because they’ve been doing this for 50 years...they were fully under the impression everything was fine, and everything was fine, until Synod found out they could get over a million dollars for their building,” Wagoner said. “Honestly, as soon as they saw the dollar signs there, they said, ‘You guys didn’t have the authority; therefore Zoe’s Coffeehouse is there illegally.’”
Wagoner said he became suspicious last summer when he was not allowed to make renovations in Zoe’s outside area.
Mel Taylor, the executive director of real estate and local relations at WSU, said the university was notified by the Synod about the bid about three months ago.
“We don’t know what to do with it yet,” Taylor said. “It’s a key location for us, obviously.”
Wagoner said he talked to WSU attorneys to try to keep his lease of the building.
Wagoner said WSU attorneys showed no interest in continuing the lease.
Taylor said although the university won the bid, which amounts to $1.2 million, the Board of Regents still has to approve the purchase because it exceeds $1 million. The board will be decide on the matter May 8.
The university is also still in the process of finalizing paperwork with the owners, Taylor said.
Wagoner said he offered to buy the building, and Resonate Church also placed a bid, but it was not close to the final amount.
“The Synod is evicting us,” Wagoner said. “Why (WSU) won’t let us stay there until the end of the lease, I don’t know.”
However, Taylor said WSU has no control over the eviction of the leasers, which he said is controlled by Synod.
“It’s not what we hoped, we wanted to stay here,” said Chad McMillan, executive pastor of Resonate Church.
McMillan said the church was notified by the owners that they were not permitted another one-year lease and began doing a month-to-month lease in January.
McMillan called this a huge loss for the building, as it has many resources for students and the community such as daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and Read for Life, a program where WSU students tutor children and international students in reading.
Interfaith House was permitted a two week extension to vacate the building, he said.
Despite being an ideal location for the university because of its close proximity to the campus, the building itself has an uncertain future as its structural integrity doesn’t hold up to university standards.
“We’re either going to have to renovate it or tear it down,” Taylor said. “It hasn’t been updated in a long time.”
Taylor said the leasers of the building were given notice to vacate prior to the university’s bid for the building.
Zoe’s shares half of the basement of the Interfaith House with Verizon, Wagoner said. Last month, they installed hundreds of thousands of dollars of new equipment on Verizon towers on top of the building to upgrade it to 4G.
Verizon’s lease is directly with the Synod and not the CMC. Verizon has two and a half years remaining on their lease.
Ten of the 14 Zoe employees are students and two are alumni, Wagoner said.
“I planned on retiring here,” he said of Zoe’s. “Now I don’t have (a plan). This is my income. It’s my only income.”