The Port of Seattle announced another round of rent relief for airport tenants this week, but many owners of restaurants and shops said the terms don’t go far enough.
Dining and retail tenants at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are eligible for four months of rent deferral on their storefronts. Port executive Steve Metruck said Tuesday the airport won’t collect marketing fees until the end of the year. Sea-Tac will also extend lease terms and defer utilities charges and office and storage rent.
Sixty-two of the 89 shops and restaurants at Sea-Tac temporarily closed due to declining travel and stay-at-home orders limiting them to takeout only service, as of late April.
The new provisos will hopefully give airport tenants “extra time to get back on their feet financially,” Metruck said in a Port commission meeting. Passenger traffic through Sea-Tac is rising incrementally from its April nadir, but is still only around 10% of 2019 levels. Airlines have cut 80% of flights, and load factor — a measure of how many passengers are on each flight — has fallen from 86% to 10% since the start of the pandemic, according to the industry group Airlines for America.
Restaurants like Nat Stratton-Clarke’s Floret, at Gate A1, rely on strong passenger traffic to turn a profit. Like many shops in the airport, Floret pays a minimum monthly rent or a percentage of sales, whichever is greater.
Floret has been closed since April, so they aren’t making sales. And while the lease has an “enplanement reduction clause” that lowers Floret’s minimum payments if passenger volumes drop, April rent came to $19,000, Stratton-Clarke said — a hefty sum for a restaurant without any customers. Even when he’s allowed to reopen, he’ll only have 32 seats out of a possible 80 until social-distancing measures lift entirely.
Stratton-Clarke and other Sea-Tac business owners want to renegotiate their leases with the Port to eliminate their minimum payment requirement. Remitting just a percentage of their earnings, they say, seems more fair: If people aren’t flying, they won’t have to pay rent — or, just as bad for many, owe back rent when the deferrals come due.
That way, he said, “If we make money, the Port makes money.”
There could be legal obstacles to renegotiating tenant leases. Under state law, the airport can’t give freebies to tenants — that’s why rent relief so far has been in the form of deferrals, not waivers, Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper said by email.
“Overall we also have our fiduciary responsibility to the public who owns the facility,” Cooper said. “There has to be a balance of competing demands to continue to keep the airport solvent.”
The Port is also considering more rent relief for its other tenants throughout Puget Sound, in maritime, industrial, commercial, office and retail properties, Metruck said at Tuesday’s meeting.