Eric Grey and Amanda Barp, founders of Watershed Wellness, might have the best office views in Astoria.
Watershed Wellness recently took over half of the top floor in the Port of Astoria’s Pier 1 office building, vacated after the agency moved back to its old offices to save money.
Barp, a massage therapist, and Grey, a practitioner of Chinese medicine, founded Watershed Wellness a decade ago in Portland. They moved to Astoria a couple of years ago wanting to escape the city but not knowing whether they’d start a business locally.
“Portland has two schools for Chinese medicine, and they’re pumping out graduates pretty fast,” Grey said. “Plus it’s the West Coast, and Portland’s been the darling city of the West Coast for a little bit, and so a lot of acupuncturists move there. So it’s just market saturation.”
Watershed Wellness opened an Astoria location in 2017. The company was surprised by the local demand and lack of practitioners, Barp said, and closed the Portland clinic earlier this year to focus entirely on their growing presence in Astoria.
“It’s not easy to find commercial property in this town, unless it’s a cavernous building you’ll rehab for the next 10 years, and we just don’t have the capacity to do that,” Grey said.
They knew Matt McGrath, the Port’s director of operations, who was aware the growing company was looking for more space, Grey said.
Watershed Wellness rented nearly 2,400 square feet of finished office space for $2,800 a month for the first year, rising to $3,100 a month for the second year and $3,800 a month for the third through fifth years. The lease includes a five-year extension option.
The Port moved its offices to Pier 1 in 2010 from the smaller Gateway Building, located a block southwest at the foot of Pier 2. Port staff spent part of Thanksgiving break moving back to make way for Watershed Wellness. The Port still occupies some downstairs offices for the West Mooring Basin marina.
“It’s no secret that financially we’re not in a great spot right now,” said Will Isom, the Port’s executive director. “So we’re looking for any wins we can get.”
The Port has lost most of its largest single revenue source — log exports from Astoria Forest Products — to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China. Isom is negotiating a restructured lease with the company, which recently downgraded from three to one office suite on the top floor of Pier 1.
Leasing or even selling the Pier 1 building, completed by then-Port Commissioner Glenn Taggart in 2005, has come up multiple times. The Port purchased the Taggart building out of foreclosure more than a decade ago with a $1.7 million loan.
A profit-and-loss statement earlier this year showed the Port still losing nearly $35,000 a year after $12,300 a month in debt service. Watershed Wellness’ lease is worth $33,600 in rent the first year, rising to $45,600 by the third.
“At this point, it does pay for itself, if we paid rent to ourselves,” Isom said.
But the Port is hoping for help from the state to fix some of its larger infrastructure issues. The agency recently submitted a strategic business plan to rebuild itself financially. Leases like the one to Watershed Wellness and another of the former Oregon State Police offices to a day care center show the state the Port is serious about seeking revenue and maximizing its properties, Isom said.
There’s interest in the other top-floor Pier 1 suites and in the Port Commission chambers, where the agency holds public meetings, Isom said. The Port is exploring all options, from a lease to a single customer or a coworking space for professionals without an office.
The lease to Watershed Wellness also includes a reversionary clause allowing the Port to take the offices back if it identifies “a higher and better use for the premises based on income, employment and other criteria.” Isom said the clause is to protect the Port and highly unlikely to be exercised, unless a really large new employer comes to town.
Grey and Barp, unfazed by the clause, have read the newspaper articles about various controversies at the Port and know there’s a much longer history, but said the agency has so far been good to work with.
“We’ve been in business for over 10 years, and we’ve had many different interactions with landlords,” Barp said. “And so for us, the Port’s just another landlord. We don’t necessarily have any colored opinion on it.”