WSU decides to honor leases for tenants of Interfaith House

Zoe Coffeehouse and a number of local religious groups can look forward to eight more months in the Interfaith House.

A WSU News release on Friday revealed the university will not enforce the April 30 eviction imposed by the current owners of the property if the Board of Regents approves the purchase. Instead, it will honor the existing leases, which run through Dec. 31, 2014.

Mike Wagoner, the owner of Zoe Coffeehouse, said he learned of the arrangement Friday afternoon during a phone call from WSU President Elson S. Floyd.

“Administrators called and asked, ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you creating all this commotion?’” Wagoner said. “And I said, ‘It’s not me. It’s the students.’”

One student started a thousands-strong movement in support of keeping the coffee shop on campus.

“Five minutes after reading the paper I decided I was going to do something,” said Laura Abbott, the junior neuroscience and creative writing major who created the ‘Save Zoe’s Coffeehouse’ Facebook page.

The page, which has accumulated more than 3,700 likes since its creation on Friday morning, lobbies for the building’s owners to continue Zoe’s lease.

“If you took Zoe’s off of campus, it would be very much akin to permanently taking the hamburger out of American cuisine,” Abbott said.

Abbott has also created a petition, which she plans to submit to the university today. It is available both in print and online.

She added that neither the petition nor the Facebook page is connected to Wagoner in any way. She said they had never met until Friday afternoon.

“We were relieved and grateful to President Floyd for intervening personally,” Wagoner said, noting that once his lease ends he would like to move Zoe’s to another location on campus.

The Interfaith House is managed by the Common Ministry Council (CMC), which is in the process of moving out of the building and into the Congregational United Church of Christ on Northeast Campus Street. The Presbyterian Synod of Alaska-Northwest is the organization that owns the building.

Wagoner received a letter from the Synod stating the CMC did not have the authority to lease to Zoe’s and that the lease was not valid, he said.

CMC Vice President Emi Dickens said the council underwent a transitional period about three and a half years ago, when the director at the time quit.

“CMC managed the building on a good faith relationship with Synod,” Dickens said. “We were under the assumption they allowed us to manage the building as in the past.”

The Synod and the CMC entered into a month-to-month building use agreement in January of this year.

“There was one time when we did have a lease agreement with Synod and the Common Ministry,” Dickens said. “And during the transition, that apparently got neglected.”