Leases for two of Swansboro’s five rental properties are in hand and negotiations are planned for the other three.

The most pressing is the Swansboro Visitor Center, which rents space to the Swansboro Area Chamber of Commerce. That lease was renewed for one year beginning Jan. 1, but the monthly rate could change.

Also coming up in the next 60 days or so are leases on two properties in use by One Harbor Church. And this one may be the most complicated. The church leases the old town hall (502 Church St.) and the new town hall (601 W. Corbett Ave.). That lease expires March 31.

Chris Seaberg, town manager, reported on the leases and negotiations at the Jan. 13 meeting of the town commissioners.

Leases for Cedro De Azmar (The Cigar Shop) on Church Street and the Swansboro Heritage Center at the old town hall are in hand.

Cedro De Azmar owner Georges El-Asmar agreed to pay $1,510 a month. It represents a 3 percent increase and is based on the Consumer Price Index, according to Seaberg.

The rent for the Heritage Center, paid by the nonprofit Swansboro Historical Association, will remain $1 a year.

Both leases are for one year, although El-Asmar wants to negotiate a five-year term, which Seaberg said the town is willing to do.

“I see no conflicts with his request, but the town would need to ensure that a public notice is advertised at least 30-days in advance to considering anything over a one-year lease agreement,” Seaberg explained.

Mike McHugh, executive director of the chamber, wants to see a reduction in the proposal to increase the monthly rent for the Visitor Center from $700 to $904. Under certain conditions, that will be possible.

“We are due to have a meeting soon,” Seaberg said of the negitations with the chamber. “I’ve just my instructions from the board. We are still on that.”

It was explained in December that the chamber paid under-market value for the property due to an agreement to staff the site on weekends.

Seaberg explained that Scott Chase, previous town manager, came up with a market rate, based on square footage and location, of $878 a month. But he built in a discount of $178 a month with the understanding that the chamber would staff the visitor center on Saturday and Sunday.

However, for the past year or so there has been no weekend staffing.

McHugh, who came on as executive director in the fall of 2018, said he looked into the weekend staffing requirement and a longtime chamber member told him that the weekend staffing was accomplished through members volunteering to man the center on the weekends.

Commissioners expressed a desire for the chamber to hold up that end of the bargain if it wants to take advantage of the discount. Should that be accomplished, the likely outcome would be the chamber would see the monthly rent increase by 3 percent from $700, according to Seaberg.

As for the lease agreement between the town and the chamber, Seaberg said, “Instructions provided was for staff to establish a one-year agreement with the understanding that discussions take place on the chamber providing staffing on the weekends to qualify for the suggested discounts.”

Seaberg told commissioners that One Harbor Church officials would lease for the remainder of 2020 but would then likely go on a month-to-month basis, until a new church is built. Plans are underway to build a church on Main Street Extension adjacent to Swansboro Municipal Park.

“There will be consideration for future years but there is a desire on both sides to get a better understanding of how One Harbor Church proceeds,” Seaberg states in a memo to the panel.

Church officials have also asked to amend the lease to consider the town accepting equipment installed at the old town hall in exchange for a discounted rate. A similar arrangement exists with the church’s use of the new town hall.

“It would be very similar to what we have here,” Seaberg said. “They’ve got some nice equipment over there. And they have been gracious about offering to leave that at a reduced rate.”

During public comments at the Jan. 27 meeting of the town commissioners, Amelia Dees-Killette, president of the Swansboro Historical Association, urged the town to strike a deal to keep the audio and visual equipment in the old town hall.

The church has allowed the SHA use of the space.

Should the town wish to accept the equipment in lieu of rental fee, the total would likely be spread out over a period of time, according to Seaberg.

“We are talking that through,” he said. “We want it to be fair and equitable for both parties.”

The church currently pays $3,030 a month for the two properties. That fee includes a discount that will mean the church’s audio-visual equipment in the new town hall will become property of the town at the end of the lease.

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