A mini war is brewing in Pioneer Square at First Avenue South and South Washington Street. You could call it the contentious corner. Among the old cobblestone alleyways, partially vacant brick office buildings, and constant street construction, businesses and residents are duking it out over the corner's newest tenant, the Fenix.

The Fenix, or Fenix Underground, a once-popular bar and nightclub, isn't really new. It's been around since 1991. But the February 2001 earthquake destroyed its Second and Jackson home, literally slamming the front doors shut with a pile of rubble and fallen bricks. Since that time, Fenix owners Rick Wyatt and Mike Lagervall, with the help of local real estate firm Goodman Financial, have taken over the old Buttnick Manufacturing space (two blocks away from the old Fenix) on the southeast corner of First and Washington. The cost of the elaborate restoration and renovations is expected to top $3 million. Though construction has started and Wyatt expects to be open by late summer, the Fenix still needs its liquor license--something the Pioneer Square Business Association and others are fighting.

Three weeks ago, on April 6, the Pioneer Square Community Association (PSCA) sent a letter to the Seattle Police Department requesting that the Fenix's liquor license be held until the Fenix signs a "good neighbor agreement." Good neighbor agreements, which aren't legally binding, generally try to address nightclub issues like noise, litter, and crowd control. For example, Business X must participate in community meetings, or Business X must develop a daily litter control routine. In Pioneer Square, no business has ever signed this type of agreement prior to opening.

In the case of the Fenix, the PSCA and others are hoping the signed agreement addresses not only the logistics of having a "new," large club in the neighborhood, but also the larger issue of distrust between daytime retail businesses and nightclubs. ["Day and Night," Amy Jenniges, Feb 14]. Recent events like the 2001 Mardi Gras riot haven't helped the relationship. "The gap between daytime retail and the nightclubs is a wide one," says PSCA Executive Director Casey Jones. "The good neighbor agreement could help bridge that gap." (Jones says working out some sort of general community standards could prevent the necessity of the good neighbor agreement.) But the day-versus-night business squabbles seem to illustrate a bigger issue--competing visions of what Pioneer Square should be.

"This is just another attempt by certain people who have an agenda to get rid of clubs in Pioneer Square," says Wyatt. Terry Derosier of Agate Designs says the ill feeling toward clubs has definitely gotten worse since Mardi Gras. "There's definitely tension," he says. Wyatt refuses to let the Fenix be the precedent for the good neighbor agreement. "I would have to define my hours of operation, what my security would be, and I'm not even open yet," he says. "This is America isn't it?"

On Washington Street, down the block from PSCA headquarters and directly across from the new Fenix location, there's a fancy pottery shop called Laguna. The owner, Bif Brigman, has been one of the Fenix's most vocal opponents, and one of two businesses (the other was Animation USA) and a resident that signed the PSCA letter. "If Rick is such a good neighbor," says Brigman, with stacks of orange, aqua blue, and teal vases behind him, "why won't he sign the agreement? We've all talked, but we need something more concrete," he complains. Others aren't so sure.

Last week, an equally passionate group of 40 Pioneer Square business owners and residents sent off a letter to police supporting the Fenix, attacking the agreement. "Making [Wyatt] sign this agreement after the earthquake is like kicking him in the balls," says Tina Bueche, owner of the Diner, a retro restaurant off of Washington Street, as she grabs a plate of fries from under a heat lamp. "The agreement is about control, nothing else. It's a dangerous precedent." The debate continues, and Seattle police officer Judy De Mello expects a decision within two weeks about the Fenix's liquor license.

pat@thestranger.com

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