Joe Barnes has purchased the Osburn-O’Brien Building in downtown Astoria, where he hopes to expand the number of upstairs rooms for rent.
Barnes, who recently opened the 30-unit 5th Street Flats apartment complex near Old Youngs Bay Bridge, bought the downtown building from Above Tide LLC, run by Steve and Debbie Mansfield.
The building runs along 14th Street from Commercial to Duane streets. Along Commercial Street are Allstate Insurance and Thiel’s Musical Instruments, which has been in the space since 1974. On Duane Street are two newer tenants, the Creations Studio and Gallery and Bridge & Tunnel Bottleshop and Taproom.
“Everybody is status quo,” Barnes said. “We’re in negotiations with Thiel’s. They’re the only people we don’t have a lease with.”
Rick Holt, who has worked for the Thiel family since the 1990s and has operated the Astoria location for the past three years, said he is in contact with Barnes and weighing options.
Upstairs are five apartments and several more rooms Barnes said used to be rented out by the week. “The hope would be to have another five or six units upstairs,” he said.
Barnes has raised the rent on tenants in the building by the 10.3 percent allowed by the recent state rent control cap, while adding a utility surcharge. The developer hopes to bring them all to at least $1,000 a month including utilities, which he said is below market for downtown.
“The market rent for the space, for one bedroom, is probably between $1,000 and $1,100, and probably around $850 for the studios,” he said.
Barnes also owns the Fisher Brothers Building near Buoy Beer, where he converted former apartments into vacation rentals. Some people downtown, including tenants of the Osburn-O’Brien Building, have approached the city wondering if Barnes plans to do the same in his new building, City Manager Brett Estes said.
Vacation rentals have become a hot-button issue amid the region’s low vacancy rate and high housing costs. Barnes would need a conditional use permit to create vacation rentals. The city recently launched a homestay lodging permit to better track rentals and curb illegal listings.
Barnes, who estimates there are 10 unused former sleeping rooms of about 400 square feet each upstairs, said his architect will need to get in the building before he decides how any remodel will move forward.