This is not the first time that inner southeast venue Refuge PDX has made headlines. But it is probably the last.
Earlier this month, the event space at 116 SE Yamhill Street unexpectedly closed. Last weekend's scheduled send-off party for horse show Cavalia had to be relocated to Bossanova Ballroom, and unless an agreement is reached over the rent that Refuge PDX owner Maria Toth owes the building's owner, Bruun Properties, Refuge PDX will close for good.
Toth racked up a debt of $202,000 in rent and interest to Bruun Properties—which she says she cannot pay. Toth is hoping to raise funds to buy the building, but Bruun is ready to move on.
"We are tying to facilitate getting the current tenant out of the space and market it for rent," says Bruun's attorney, Robert Koury of Jordan Ramis PC law group.
This is the latest in a string of troubles associated with Toth's business at Refuge PDX. The OLCC has issued Toth seven violations since 2009. Refuge PDX was temporarily shut down after it violated fire code in November 2013. Last December, Toth was arrested for allegedly selling beer without a liquor license at a cannabis event called Cannaball.
In January, OLCC spokeswoman Christie Scott said, "[Toth] continually keeps holding events without liquor licenses." At that time, Toth faced a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to one year in prison or a $6,250 fine.
"I have nothing to hide with my violations. They are mosquito bite violations that occur all over the state of Oregon," says Toth. "But they [the OLCC] deemed me as dangerous, rather than places…with money."
Beginning in 2014, Toth used Lorentz Bruun Construction—also owned by Bruun Properties owner Kelly Bruun—to make improvements to the property for renovations and code upgrades. Construction was scheduled to be finished last summer, Toth says, but problems with the water and neighboring railroad caused delays.
During construction, Refuge PDX was closed and could not host events, which Toth says led to loss of revenue. She also says her rent doubled and accrued interest during that time.
The back rent built up over eight months of construction, and in early August, Toth says she was locked out of the building and told to pay $50,000 by August 15 or lose her lease. She paid $29,000 before the deadline and then another $25,000 on August 16, She says she remains locked out.
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"The landlord said enough is enough," says Koury. "We are done negotiating."
Toth is crowd funding and seeking private investors. Meanwhile, she owes a remaining $162,000, due by the end of this month.
Toth has one hope to hang on to the building, she says. She commissioned a mural on the side of the building that was permitted by the Bureau of Developmental Services, which she hopes may protect the building from demolition. Toth hopes that she can use that as leverage to hold on to the building if the owners try to demolish it.
"The best outcome would be for us to get the funding and buy the building," says Toth.
Bruun Properties' attorney says the company already has plans to find a new renter for the space. "Whether it continues to be an events space depends on the new tenant," says Koury.
The four events scheduled at Refuge PDX this week, including a school dance, will be moved or cancelled. Toth says she scheduled events through January—and depending on the outcome, all events may need to find another space.