Forest Service Building For Sale

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— The U.S. Forest Service building at the corner of 10th Street and Lincoln Avenue has taken the No. 1 spot on federal agency's nationwide list of buildings it wants to sell.

That sale is expected to bring in more than $600,000 to nearby national forests, but it will also displace a nonprofit organization that provides countless hours of environmental education to schools, visitors and local adults.

The building was vacated by the Forest Service five years ago when it consolidated into a new site east of the city on U.S. Highway 40.

Since then, Yampatika has occupied a portion of the old forest service building, selling everything from nature guidebooks to butterfly jewelry. The non-profit nature organization also uses the building for offices and storage.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife operates out of the back of the building.

Last year, the U.S. Forest Service put in place a pilot program in which districts could sell buildings they no longer use and put the proceeds toward projects in their own forests.

U.S. Forest Service Recreation and Lands Programmer Tom Florich, who is overseeing the sale from the Laramie Office, said the Forest Service sells administrative buildings all the time, but the proceeds from those sales have always returned to the U.S. Forest Service's federal coffers. The 10th Street building would be the first sale where the money would stay in the forest area and be used for different maintenance projects that have been deferred.

"It is a very good opportunity," Florich said.

Kim Vogel, who is the district ranger for the Hahns Peak/Bears Ears, said the district submitted an application for the 10th Street building when it heard about the program last year. But Vogel said they were surprised to find out the building was listed as the No. 1 sales priority by the Forest Service.

Both Vogel and Florich said the ranking was the result of the high real estate value for the building, which is located in Steamboat's retail district.

"We didn't expect to end up that high," Vogel said. "Certainly it is not a recent shock. But it was a little bit of a shock last year."

Florich estimates the sale could bring at least $600,000, but said they have not come up with a list of how the money would be spent.

The money would be spread throughout projects in the Medicine Bow/Routt National Forest and Thunder Basin National Grassland in Wyoming.

The sale of the building will go through the federal government's General Services Administration, which has plans to begin accepting bids by Oct. 1. Florich was unsure if the bidding will be a one-bid-each process or if continual, auction-style bidding will be used.

Previously, the Forest Service and the DOW were working on a trade: the 10th street building for land at the Sarvis Creek trail head and Rock Creek Stage Stop. If the trade had worked out, Yampatika could have stayed in the front of the building. However, the two agencies never reached an agreement.

Florich said the DOW and Yampatika would have until the end of December to move out. Tentative plans are for both to move to the Forest Service building on the east side of Steamboat. The Forest Service does not own that building.

"We have room for all of their services out of these offices," Vogel said. "But Yampatika will never sell as much at this site. More retail traffic is there. It's a disadvantage."

Changing locations will be a major shift in programming for Yampatika, which uses the downtown Forest Service building free of charge.

Yampatika Director Deborah Fuller said that a move to the Forest Service building would mean a dramatic reduction in the store's inventory, which would mean fewer sales and possibly a scaling down of their programs.

"We are in a period of transition," Fuller said.

The store has already started marking its items 30 to 50 percent off in hopes of reducing its inventory for this fall.

Fuller said about 16 percent of Yampatika's funding comes from retail sales. Along with not receiving as much foot traffic, Fuller said operating from the new building would only allow the store to sell educational material. Yampatika could no longer sell novelty items such as its jewelry, garden decor, bird feeders or stuffed animals.

Fuller said Yampatika started out just selling education material, which brought in about $12,000 a year. The inventory it sells now generates roughly $60,000.

"The novelty items are our bread and butter," she said.

Yampatika would like to keep its retail business in the downtown area, but even renting a low-end commercial space on Lincoln Avenue would not be feasible because of Yampatika's $100,000-a-year budget, Fuller said.

The organization has been talking to different community groups to see if a downtown space could be donated.

Fuller also talked about moving its educational program into the Steamboat Springs School District's administration building on Seventh Street. That space will allow them to store more than 200 snowshoes and 21 Discovery Kits, both which are used for educational programs.

And Fuller said there is also the possibility of moving back to Casey's Cabin next to Casey's Pound, where the group started out.

"The community has always been generous. I am optimistic it will step up and help find a solution that works," Fuller said. "Change is not always a bad thing. Something better might come out of this."


-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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