Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson and the City Council declined on Wednesday to get involved in the potential sale of the former Mallard’s Bistro building on Wishkah Street downtown, despite some interest in the property from the Aberdeen Timberland Library.
The library had shown interest in taking over the building (which is across the alley from the library) and turning it into a storage area and a public meeting room. That would have sunk the plans of Andy Bickar, the executive chief of the Ocean Crest restaurant in Moclips, who is hoping to buy the building and open a new restaurant.
Bickar said he was within days of closing the deal when he discovered that the City of Aberdeen actually had the right of first refusal on any potential sale. That’s because the city once owned a building adjacent to the restaurant and the two buildings shared a common wall. In 2004 the building was torn down to make way for a parking lot for the library, but the right of first refusal to the property remains in effect.
The city didn’t want the building, but the library showed some interest in partnering with the city — buying it with library funds and turning it over to the city. The city’s not interested in that either. “Do we want a storage unit or a viable restaurant?” Simpson said. “I’m going with the restaurant.”
When Mallard’s owner and chef Niels Tiedt died in June, the building went up for sale. Bickar said he spent money for inspections and plans for the building before discovering, just days before the deal was set to close, that the city’s right of first refusal existed.
“Nobody I was dealing with knew about it at all,” Bickar said. “I’ve put a significant amount of money in this deal. When I did the title search, we had been locked in for almost four weeks when this came up.”
Following the existing agreement, the building is being offered first to the city for $95,000. The county Assessor’s Office has appraised the one-story building and 2,000-square-foot lot at $91,000.
Aberdeen City Attorney Eric Nelson and Community Development Director Lisa Scott both recommended that the city decline the offer. The council took no action on the offer.
“There’s a business here that has interest and the city doesn’t need this building,” Scott said.
Library Director Christine Peck says that the Aberdeen library would have had a use for it. Peck says the building would have been perfect as storage space to hold the library’s periodicals. Plus, the library is in need of a larger meeting room. The library’s meeting space on its second floor can only hold 60 people.
The library district, or anyone else, for that matter, could still bid for the building, but Peck emphasized that the building is not on Timberland Library’s facilities plan nor has acquiring the building been approved by the library’s Board of Trustees.
Peck says the library has access to funds that could be used to acquire the building. A former patron left an endowment for the library in the care of the Grays Harbor Community Foundation, which would have to sign off on the use of the funds. All of this would take several weeks, if not months, to sort out.
“I think it was prudent for us to take a look at whether we could purchase the building and what the availability is to us,” Peck said.
The city owns the library and the parking lot, but the library district provides funding for the library to operate and gets funds directly from property taxes levied on Aberdeen property owners. If the library were to somehow acquire the Mallard’s building, Peck said that it would ultimately want to turn it over to the city, which would be responsible for the new building’s maintenance.
But even if the library were to somehow purchase the building, city officials have no interest, because they don’t want to deal with future capital costs, plus Bickar has his own plans to operate a restaurant there.
“We don’t want to compete for the purchase of this building,” Scott said.
Bickar said he had heard rumors the city was looking to tear down the Mallard’s building and put in a new parking lot, a thought that had terrified him because it would certainly ruin his plans.
He’s been scrambling the past few days to figure out what was going on. He says he’s grateful for Mayor Simpson’s ear to help him figure out the logistics of what’s happening.
Bickar, a 2000 Aberdeen High School graduate, had been executive chef at the Ocean Crest’s acclaimed restaurant at Moclips before the restaurant burned down about a year and a half ago. He says if the restaurant starts up again, he very well could still be involved with it. The downtown Aberdeen restaurant is his “back-up plan.”
“This is a fun project and I truly think we could help change downtown Aberdeen,” Bickar said.