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Yakima hotel converts to farmworker housing

Valicoff Fruit Company of Wapato and other agricultural interests are turning a Yakima hotel into housing for seasonal farmworkers, including H-2A-visa foreign guestworkers.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on May 10, 2018 8:55AM

Last changed on May 10, 2018 10:08AM

FairBridge Inn & Suites in Yakima, Wash., is being turned into housing for up to 800 seasonal farmworkers.

WAFLA

FairBridge Inn & Suites in Yakima, Wash., is being turned into housing for up to 800 seasonal farmworkers.


YAKIMA, Wash. — A 200-room hotel in Yakima is being turned into seasonal farmworker housing with beds for 800 workers.

FairBridge Inn & Suites, 1507 N. First St., was purchased by First Street Holdings LLC on Dec. 28 for $3.2 million, according to the Yakima County Assessor’s Office.

Valicoff Fruit Co. of Wapato is the managing partner of First Street Holdings, which is renovating the facility and plans to open it June 1 for seasonal farmworkers, said Dan Fazio, director of WAFLA, formerly the Washington Farm Labor Association, in Lacey. WAFLA will assist in management of the facility.

“Farmers will have access to a first-class facility for their workers at less than it will cost for them to build it themselves. We’re pleased to be part of it,” Fazio told Capital Press.

“We were happy to work with WAFLA and other investors to put this together. Farmers need workers and workers need a place to live,” said Rob Valicoff, president of Valicoff Fruit, in a news release.

He could not be reached for further comment.

Fazio said First Street Holdings secured a license from the state Department of Health May 8 to house 800 seasonal farmworkers at the facility. He said the city of Yakima tabled establishment of a new zoning category to allow seasonal farmworker housing but that the use complies with zoning.

Joan Davenport, city community development director, said Fazio is correct on both counts. She said the city council on May 1 rejected the planning commission’s recommendation on a zoning category and wants to do its own study.

First Street Investments registered with the Secretary of State as a corporation on May 7 and lists Fazio as the registered agent and one of four corporate governors along with Mohamed Dobashi, WAFLA’s CEO; Robert Valicoff; and Brett Valicoff. Fazio said the listing is in error and that he is neither an agent nor one of the governors. He would not say if WAFLA is a partner in First Street Investments.

WAFLA has contributed “substantially” to the renovations in exchange for a $12 per night rate for H-2A-visa foreign agricultural guestworkers for WAFLA members and the first right of refusal to all 800 beds, Fazio said. Other users will pay $14 per night, he said. Growers interested in securing beds may contact David Guzman, WAFLA Kennewick manager, at dguzman@wafla.org or (509) 440-2826.

WAFLA so far has hired 14,100 H-2A workers from Mexico, mostly for tree fruit growers in Washington and some in Oregon and will surpass 15,000 this season, Fazio said. It is one of the largest H-2A providers in the nation. Valicoff Fruit hires H-2A workers through WAFLA.

Two queen beds per room are being replaced with four bunk beds per room. Each room has two sinks, a shower, toilet, microwave, small refrigerator and television, Fazio said.

A kitchen is being renovated, a cafeteria added, a restaurant turned into a sundries store and there will be laundry facilities and a Mexican bank branch, he said.

Additionally, there’s a bar, two pools and a ballroom that seats 420 people, he said.

The cafeteria will provide breakfast and dinner and sack lunches for workers for $12.26 per day that will be deducted from their pay, which is allowed under the federal H-2A program, he said.

“Management is going to place everything the workers need right at the site, and of course being in the city makes it more convenient for workers to access other services,” said Fazio.

Borton Fruit of Yakima bought the hotel in October and sold it to First Street Holdings, he said.

Borton, Valicoff, the Martinez family connected with G&G Orchards in Cowiche, and a hop grower began talking to the city earlier this year about the need for farmworker housing and talked about using hotels.

WAFLA started construction of its 166-bed Riverview Meadows seasonal farmworker housing in Okanogan in mid-March and hopes to open it Sept. 1. It recently received notice of award of a $3 million state grant to help it build another 166-bed facility in Chelan to open in spring of 2019.



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