ASHLAND — Allegations of mean words, relocation blues and a defamation lawsuit hang over A Street Market Place as rapidly-expanding Plexis Healthcare Systems shifts the 20,000-square-foot building from retail to office use and tenants look for new homes or insist on staying.

ASHLAND — Allegations of mean words, relocation blues and a defamation lawsuit hang over A Street Market Place as rapidly-expanding Plexis Healthcare Systems shifts the 20,000-square-foot building from retail to office use and tenants look for new homes or insist on staying.

John Brenes, owner of Music Coop, said it would cost him $30,000 to relocate but Market Place owner and Plexis President Jorge Yant has offered him only $9,000. Brenes said he has found a good downtown space to relocate, but without getting full relocation costs, will live out the remaining six years on his lease.

Vocal about his displeasure with Yant, Brenes acknowledges that he "used a few adjectives." In response, Yant on Oct. 11 filed a defamation suit in Circuit Court against Brenes and his wife Trina Brenes, asking $325,000 for Plexis and $75,000 for himself.

The suit charges the couple subjected Plexis and Yant to "hatred, contempt or ridicule" and "tend(ed) to diminish the esteem, respect, good will and confidence" of the Ashland community in Yant and Plexis.

Yant charged the couple with making false statements to tenants, prospective employees and members of the community, that Plexis is "the worst kind of business that shows up in a community and devours everyone around it with no thought for the little guy "¦ that nobody should work for Plexis because it is such a lousy company "¦ that Plexis is a greedy, evil corporation." Yant also charged the couple with saying he, Yant "is a bully "¦ a hypocrite and a liar "¦ thinks he is above the law because he's a business owner "¦ has no honesty or integrity "¦ treats his employees like crap "¦ has no respect for anyone "¦ cannot be trusted."

John Brenes, in an interview, said "it's a harassment suit. He wants his space. He has no right to get us out. We built this space and have planned to have it here as our retirement. "¦ Since January, he has harassed us and tried to terminate our lease."

Yant, in an interview, declined to discuss the suit or terms of leases or relocation packages, but said, since he bought the building in September last year, he has made it clear he was converting it to office use, would respect all leases "to the letter of the law," and would help tenants with relocation.

On a walking tour of the building, John Brenes said several changes — including locking the Oak Street entrance, putting an end to evening music in the common space, requiring keys for bathrooms, removing signs to his store from the common hall and placing a Plexis reception desk in front of the A Street entrance — were made without consulting tenants and resulted in reduced business.

Brenes said he never spoke against Plexis, but only about Yant's treatment of tenants.

"I used adjectives only about the landlord, not the company. I only know the company and its employees as good," Brenes said. "The lawsuit is because we wouldn't accept the money he offered us to move. "¦ He told us from the first day he wanted us out. "¦ Once he took over, he never spoke to us. All orders and commands came in the mail."

Linda Jo Molloy, owner of Strands hair salon said she has 10 years left on her lease, has invested all her savings in the location and "will wait it out." She has not been approached to move, she added.

"In the beginning, we weren't too concerned because he told us nothing would change, that he would honor the leases and no one would be forced to move," said Molloy. "In a few months, the next thing we know is that he wants the building for himself and will do everything he can to find a new home for us. But we like it here. If he wants tenants to move, he should pay all the moving expenses and buy out the lease."

Two tenants who have completed "exit strategies" — Cosmic Pizza and Salon Jewel — said Yant was cooperative and their agreement required they not disclose the terms.

Neil Buettner, owner of Cosmic Pizza, said the closing of music and public seating and locking of an entrance "absolutely" reduced business, but "we worked together to find a common solution to help me move my business. It's been a positive experience."

"It went from being a social scene that had become pretty popular, with people hanging out a couple hours and listening to music, to (a place of) eating and leaving." Buettner said, "I should have tried to move earlier. I didn't see the impact of him buying the building on my business. I have lost some money but I can't blame it on someone else. He's been pretty clear and direct on what he's going to do with the building."

Ashland developer Allan Sandler, one of the partners who sold the building to Yant for around $3.4 million, said all parties, including tenants, had "total understanding" that Yant "would need the space for himself," that he would work with tenants to relocate and that leases would be honored.

Trina Brenes of Music Coop said "The biggest sadness I see is from customers who loved the building and what was going on here, hearing the music and having a cup of coffee. It doesn't feel great. It feels like something that shouldn't be happening in a city like Ashland, where people say 'hi' on the street and look out for each other."

Other A Street Market Place tenants include Oregon Stage Works, Enchanted Florist and a classroom of Ashland Food Cooperative.

Peter Alzado, producing artistic director of Oregon Stage Works, said he has had discussions with Yant but has 12 years left on his lease and has no plans to move.

Washington Mutual and Ticor Title moved out earlier this year. The concrete building was once the home of Oak Street Tank and Steel.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.