by Kimberly Rivers

Last October, Tristan Thames and his mother, Sharon Thames, the owners and operators of the Village Carousel and Arcade in the Ventura Harbor, received a letter from the Ventura Port District letting them know their lease was not being renewed, and a suggestion that they not invest in the space.

“Our business has been in the harbor since the 1970s,” said Thames. The carousel and shops have been in his family since 2001. His father passed away four years ago. “I took it over, and for the last five years, we have been month to month. . . That is a bad situation because I’m unable to spend any money bettering my business,” said Thames.

New video games, for example, cost around $30,000 and take a few years to pay off. “The new games are what bring people in. But I can’t buy new games if I don’t know that I’m going to be here. It’s been a huge downfall for me. I’ve only bought three to four games in the past few years, at great risk. This makes growing my business more difficult and near impossible.”

“A little over a year ago, the port district did an open call for anyone that wants to bid on that space. Zero people entered bids, except for me,” said Thames. The response he received led Thames to surmise that the port district no longer wanted the carousel in the space. “We are kind of a staple here in the harbor, one of the only things for kids to do in the harbor. We are a valuable asset. They are not even willing to talk, they haven’t been [responsive] to the idea to talk about it.”

The letter to Thames, dated Oct. 31, 2018, from Robin Baer, property manager for the Ventura Harbor, states, “the Board of Port Commissioners determined that Ventura Village Carousel would not receive further consideration in the RFP [Request For Proposal] process for 1567 Spinnaker Drive, #100. Your proposed business model would not support full utilization of the 4,900 square foot suite. . . . At this time the District will continue to keep you on a month-to-month lease. Staff has been directed by the Board of Port Commissioners to pursue alternative concepts for that space and would advise you not to make long term investments.” 

“The only action taken was to retain a design team to prepare architectural drawings for a new floorplan design,” said Brian Pendleton, general manager of the Ventura Harbor, regarding the status of site. He responded by email to a request for information about the district’s plans for the carousel location. “A follow-up presentation to our board is slated for this fall, potentially October. Project design is subject to further review and approval by our board and city of Ventura.”  

According to the report from the July 17, 2019, meeting of the Port District, the commissioners approved spending $75,000 for Jim McKeown Designs “to prepare architectural drawings and process City of Ventura entitlements of a new floorplan design” in the Village Carousel space and approved budget amounts of $300,000 in two fiscal years, 2020-21 and 2021-22, for a total of $675,000 for improvements. McKeown prepared “alternative concepts” for the site that involve splitting it up with “alternative uses” identified as “arcade games, virtual reality, retail, entertainment etc.” The concepts are slated to come back before the commission in October for review and final approvals and then the plans will be submitted to the city of Ventura.  

The report states that the space is 5,798 square feet and says, “Triston and Sharon Thames are welcome to submit a proposal at the appropriate time.”

Asked what he’d like the district to do, Thames said, “Give me the opportunity to do the upgrades,” as well as a longer-term lease. He has plans for four years of improvements on hold because of the uncertainty with a month-to-month lease. He expressed frustration, saying,“We want to stay and be part of this community.”

The next meeting of the Ventura Harbor Port Commission is on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Ventura Port District Office, 1603 Anchors Way Drive, Ventura. As of press deadline the agenda is not yet posted.