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Chamber scores free rent in Morro Bay 

After several weeks of back-and-forth bickering, the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce got everything it wanted from the City Council at its Oct. 9 meeting: a new pad big enough for three offices, a guaranteed three-year lease, and practically free rent at just $1 a year.

Back in August, the council approved the concept of funding a Chamber-run economic development program with $58,250 of city money and letting the chamber take over the fire station modular offices on Harbor Street—once the new fire station is completed by the end of this year. The council at the time couldn’t reach an agreement on terms—rent, lease duration, and the like—with the Chamber, which wanted to divide its new space into three offices: one for member services, one for economic development, and one to be sub-let to private, incubator businesses.

Council members Carla Borchard, Nancy Johnson, and George Leage were opposed to giving the Chamber such a sweet location rent-free on a long-term lease without figures detailing the fair market value of the building or a full understanding of what the Chamber would do with rent collected from the incubator businesses.

Staffers brought back a fleshed-out lease agreement for the council to consider on Oct. 9; the document demanded that any rent collected be reinvested into economic development, but the staff report didn’t include numbers on a fair rent, a partial rent agreement, or anything other than $1 annually for the chamber, which pays a private party $332 per month for use of its current location.

“I’m not real supportive of the three-year lease,” Borchard said. “And I’m adamantly opposed to the free rent.”

Mayor Bill Yates and Councilmember Noah Smukler argued that free rent would let the Chamber capitalize on the $58,000 investment and provide more services for economic development, which would ultimately benefit the city without dipping further into general funds. A longer lease, they said, would provide needed stability for rotating incubator businesses to get off the ground.

After almost an hour of pleading, they couldn’t convince a third council member to support the arrangement—until Borchard had a sudden revelation.

“I will support three years just because the incoming council will support it,” Borchard said. “There you go. Just like that.”

The rest of the opposition apparently realized she was right and wanted to go home. They approved the lease unanimously.

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