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May 13, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, May 13, 2005

Fish store still coping with sewage leak Fish store still coping with sewage leak (May 13, 2005)

Seascapes 'in limbo' while building owner awaits repairs

By Michele Leung

More than two months after two downtown businesses ran into sewage trouble, one remains closed while another waits to find out if it is safe to stay at its location.

In early March, sewage spilled from a pipe underneath Seascapes, undermining the foundation of the building at the corner of Dana and Castro streets. The basement of the tropical fish store flooded, and the back of the store, used primarily by the employees, remains condemned.

The broken pipe belongs to Seascapes' next-door neighbor, the restaurant Food Street, whose sewer line connects to Seascapes' underneath.

These days, the only sign of activity at Food Street seems to be from the water trickling down a small fountain placed in front of the windows.

"They're closed until they get a sewer line," said Ron Geary, the city's building inspector. "They don't have a sewer system."

Nancy Gee, whose family owns the Food Street building, met with city officials May 10 to talk about how they can get the restaurant back in business.

"What we're proposing to do is put in a new pipe from Food Street to the main sewer," she said. "We're trying to do this quickly and expeditiously to get them back up and running."

Food Street's neighbor on its other side, Mexican Buffet, was also shut down initially, but officials have lifted their closure notice. The restaurant remains closed for business for reasons unrelated to the sewage leak, Geary said.

Those who work at Seascapes allege that there have been past plumbing problems next door, but Gee said commercial tenants are supposed to take care of problems and that owners don't always know about them. However, she said she is eager to fix whatever is wrong.

"Anytime we have been told of something, we try to resolve it. We never try to ignore things," she said. "We will work with the tenants."

City officials have also written a letter to Omar Lee, of Seattle, who owns the Seascapes building, asking Lee what he plans to do with his property. The building also includes two apartment units. One resident continues to live above Seascapes, while a vacant unit has been red-tagged. Originally, both apartments were condemned, but the city's building inspector has since reevaluated his decision.

"I felt the building is stable, and it was not necessary to red tag (the apartment above Seascapes)," Geary said. However, depending on how consultations with building owners go, the city may ask the resident to move.

Cash registers at both businesses have been quiet in the two months since the leak.

"Unfortunately for Food Street, they've been closed for two months. They've lost business," Gee said. "Even if they come back, it'll take a while for customers to come back."

Patric Andorfer, who manages Seascapes, says his business has taken a similar beating. Once open 80 hours a week, the fish store is open less than 30 hours because he and store owner Chloe Mezilis must close the store whenever they have to access their sinks in the back. Routine tasks, such as changing water in the tanks, have become more cumbersome.

"Financially, we're taking a huge hit," Andorfer said.

However, what is most frustrating to the business partners is not knowing if they'll have to relocate. That decision will depend on the city's assessment and what Lee, the building owner, decides to do.

"I don't know what the future of the store is," Mezilis said. "We want to try make it, but I don't want to move unless it's a good location."

Andorfer said the city has pointed out some buildings downtown that would be candidates for them to move into, but added that none would be available for another 18 months. Such a long wait is not possible, he said.

"We're in limbo," he said. "It's a huge deal. If we lose this building, there is no building for us."

Having to wait out the situation, Mezilis remains hopeful.

"We don't want people to give up on us," she said.

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