Our View: City should release Rehder Building

— The time has come for the city to end its ownership of the historic Rehder Building in downtown Steamboat Springs.

The landmark building at Lincoln Avenue and Eighth Street is a drain on city finances, particularly at a time when local services are being cut in the midst of a struggling economy. Although we believe the building’s required use as a museum celebrating the history of Routt County is worthy, the city and the memory of Helen Rehder would be better served if ownership was transferred back to the estate or to the Steamboat Art Museum.

The need for the city to rid itself of the Rehder Building is all the more apparent after several recent flawed decisions by the Steamboat Springs City Council.

In a 6-1 vote last month, the City Council approved a $1-a-year rent in 2009 for the Steamboat Art Museum, a Rehder Building tenant that has been paying $700 a month in rent. Council also agreed to let tenant Vectra Bank, which pays $3,571 a month in rent, out of its lease four months early – at a cost of $14,285 to the city. Vectra did, however, agree to perform exterior work on the building in exchange for ending its lease early.

Finally, the City Council failed Dec. 2 to negotiate a higher rent from a third Rehder Building tenant, Antares restaurant. Owner Diane Zahradnik is requesting a seven-month extension of her lease, which expires in September. Antares pays $9.13 a square foot a year, which is about $20 per square foot less than average commercial rents downtown. Zahradnik said interim City Manager Wendy DuBord’s recommended rent of $15 per square foot rent was too costly, while firmly stating that Antares would leave the space in September if the city raised its rent.

The council voted 6-1 to table the lease agreement and directed city staff to return with a lease that does not increase the restaurant’s rent. Antares’ current rent is $2,737.92 a month for about 3,600 square feet of space, or $32,855.04 annually.

So although the city has failed to negotiate market-rate rents from the building’s tenants to help offset the costs of operating and maintaining the Rehder Building, it also is considering returning a significant grant from the state to perform building renovations because it doesn’t want to supply the required matching funds.

The 10,800-square-foot building was built in 1905 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. In 2004, Helen Rehder of the longtime Pleasant Valley ranching family passed away and bequeathed the building to the city, which acquired the deed for it in 2006.

City Facilities Manager Bob Robichaud said the city pays $37,000 a year to operate the Rehder Building, including insurance, utilities and maintenance.

With the city facing a tight budget that likely will reduce local services at facilities including Howelsen Hill – used by so many local families – the costs of owning the Rehder Building are simply too much to bear. It is time for a new owner who can take on those expenses while staying true to Rehder’s wishes.

It is encouraging to learn that a new owner could arise. DuBord and city attorney Tony Lettunich said Tuesday that the city has begun initial conversations with the Rehder estate about transferring ownership to the Steamboat Art Museum, which already is expanding into the space vacated by Vectra Bank and could someday expand into the Antares space, as well.

Such a use, under museum ownership, would fulfill the intent of Helen Rehder’s will. Her gift to the city contained the stipulation that the building “be designated and preserved as a historical monument, and that it be operated as a museum for the preservation and commemoration of the lifestyle of settlers in Routt County.”

Although Lettunich and DuBord stressed that transferring ownership of the Rehder Building – to the estate, the museum, or any party – is a complicated, lengthy process, it is apparent that now is the time to begin those discussions in earnest. A transfer of ownership would benefit the city, the building and local taxpayers.

Keeping the building city-owned is neither fair to taxpayers nor the wishes of Helen Rehder.

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