Bay St. property owner a man of mystery

Walking down Bay Street from Harrison to Frederick, pedestrians pass some of the best Port Orchard has to offer — locally owned businesses offering food, merchandise and services with as much small-town charm as they can muster.

But between many of these businesses sit empty, unused buildings, each a challenge for anyone invested in Bay Street’s future.

As developers and residents gear up for redevelopment, the indelible presence of Bay Street’s empty storefronts — their insides obscured by sheets of paper and plywood — stands ever-present, and many point a finger toward Seattle for the blame.

Mansour Samadpour, successful microbio-logist and entrepreneur, took a liking to Port Orchard’s historical waterfront and purchased six downtown buildings, dropping $3.7 million and acquiring 1.37 acres of prime downtown real estate, cornering 27 percent of the 5.02 acres of commercial land abutting Bay Street.

Through his own company, Shoush Holdings, the 49-year-old native of Iran acquired buildings renting to Mako’s Bar and Grill, The Dance Gallery, The Antique Mall, The Bay Street Ale House and other restaurants and businesses.

But business owners grow frustrated over the abandoned appearance of two of Bay Street’s central blocks, where Samadpour’s buildings sit.

“I think it’s a shame that the majority of the buildings he purchased are still vacant,” said Mallory Jackson, owner of Custom Picture Framing at 825 Bay Street and president of the Port Orchard Bay Street Association. Jackson called resurfaced sidewalk.

Local residents pitched in to clean up the front of one condemned building, all in an attempt to put a new face on the town.

“We’re trying to change the feel of downtown, but now these buildings are just sitting there empty,” Dennis Lei said.

Samadpour’s intentions have long been unkown, and often rumored as a minor investment — a tax write-off — for a businessman with larger holdings.

But Samadpour and his building manager, Mick Terry, say behind the paper-covered windows, things are happening.

Samadpour’s investment company is actively pursuing new tenants while Terry works to make the empty buildings rentable.

And Samadpour has indicated that with Port Orchard taking the lead, these buildings could house Bay Street’s commercial future.

Inside the large, high-ceilinged space at 702 Bay Street, the hollow cavities are starting to grow the bones of a new development.

Kara Morkert, 36, of Port Orchard, walks through the property describing what it will become.

As wall frames are erected, dividing the space in to several smaller rooms, the once-empty commercial property is becoming the new location for The Dance Gallery.

The small, room-like compart-ments lining the east side of the room, built to mimic Bay Street, will hold practice rooms for music instruction and a small merchandise shop, after getting a facelift to instead look like an off-Broadway New York street.

The 12-year-old business offers a different image of Samadpour.

“He has been very supportive of Erin (Brinkerhoff)’s and my business,” Morkert said.

The seemingly distant business-man has been involved the whole time, Morkert said, and “wants to see downtown Port Orchard become something neat.”

Samadpour encouraged Morkert and Brinkerhoff — daughters of Kitsap County Commissioner Jan Angel — to move the business into the large space on Bay Street, allowing them to expand their offerings to music and art lessons, in addition to a shop and small café.

Just across the street, Terry continues to clean up and remodel 701 Bay Street.

In the middle of an abandoned skating rink, epidemiology equipment fills rows of shelving units. Large sanitizers, shelving units full of tools and boxes of equipment are stored at the building, and all around it Terry is cleaning, preparing the space for new renters.

“The talk seems to be that we’re just evicting all the people down here and not using the space,” Terry said. “It’s an investment. He bought up quite a bit of property in downtown Port Orchard here, and he wants to see it boom.”

Terry admitted that progress is moving slow on Bay Street, but argued that Samadpour has become Port Orchard’s “whipping boy” for downtown’s problems.

Take a quick poll of residents and business owners in downtown Port Orchard and Samadpour’s biography becomes a mixed bag of hearsay and speculation.

Many know he owns several buildings, and others are aware he works in microbiology, but few have met and talked with him.

Samadpour came to the United States from Iran in 1976 as a 17-year-old to study microbiology at the University of Washington. According the univerity’s Web site, Samadpour earned his degree in 1981, adding a master’s in 1987, and a Ph.D. in food science and technology in 1990.

He taught as a professor there before starting IEH Laboratories, which employs 250 people, in Lake Forest Park.

Since then, his name has appeared in numerous newspaper articles discussing public health emergencies, especially E. coli outbreaks. Samadpour was the consultant called in when the bacteria was found on spinach in California in 2006.

With so many irons in a large and diverse fire, Samadpour visits Port Orchard sporadically, and is often a mystery to even his closest contacts.

“He’s going 1,000 different directions at once,” Terry said. “When he is here, I’m lucky if I can pin him down for an hour.”

Bobbie Stewart, owner of Olde Central Antique Mall said Samadpour cares about the town and his tenants, adding that the rumors don’t reflect the man she met.

“I think as the buildings are filled up, then all the rumors will go away,” Stewart said.

John Clauson, Port Orchard City Council member and service development director at Kitsap Transit, agrees, having received support and a $5,000 donation for the Fast Ferries Now campaign earlier this year.

“He is interested in our com-munity and trying to make it better,” Clauson said. “It’s not the stereotypical developer from far away that simply wants to put something in to make a buck.”

Samadpour argues the same. He said the six buildings are an investment, and he wants Port Orchard to flourish.

The plan is to remodel the properties and bring in more tenants. Eventually, these build-ings could be redeveloped, or even hold a branch or a consolidated center of IEH Laboratories.

But in terms of redevelopment, Samadpour is waiting to see what the community and other property owners want to do. Without knowing the direction other developers will go, Samadpour doesn’t want to redevelop and mismatch the surroundings.

“The type of businesses you bring in have to match the needs of downtown,” he said.

He refuted those who see these properties as a tax write-off.

“Tax write-offs are stupid,” he said. “No one wants to go and lose money somewhere and call it a tax write-off. Only people who can’t do that talk about it.”

But Samadpour still has a bottom line. With the completion of the Downtown Overlay District, Samadpour said redevelopment on the north side of Bay Street could be difficult. Citing the newly instated 39-foot height limit, and the high cost of building on top of fill-in, a three- to four-story building might not be profitable.

Samadpour’s properties have caught the eye of many running for the open mayoral and city council positions.

Mayoral hopeful Lary Coppola, for example, met with Samadpour and came away optimistic that the properties could house the businesses downtown needs to flourish, but added that it’s still a matter of economy and profit.

“He’s a really pragmatic busi-nessman,” Copolla said. “It’s just a business to him. He has no ties to this community other than these buildings.”

The city is using a wait-and-see approach with Samadpour’s six properties. The Dance Gallery, set to open Monday, is moving to Bay Street, but it’s leaving its old space at 701 Prospect St. empty again.

Samadpour said the group is seeking tenants, but those that have come along have not worked out yet. But remodeling continues, and the “For Lease” signs attempt to attract potential businesses.

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