LIFT-UP looks for new home

Leases to expire on group's locations

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Leaders of LIFT-UP Food Bank are searching urgently for a new location to rent or own, and cost is an issue.

LIFT-UP is a nonprofit organization that helped 4,533 clients in 2003, primarily at food banks in Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek, and at its LIFT-UP Community Thrift Store on Oak Street in Steamboat.

Executive Director David Freseman said Tuesday that LIFT-UP could lose the leases on four of the five spaces it occupies in Steamboat, some of them as soon as July 1. As a result, the organization is looking for a single space, 5,000 square feet or larger, to house its operations.

Losing its leases doesn't put LIFT-UP in danger of folding, Freseman said, but the task of finding a functional building that is affordable is daunting. One possibility is buying a building through grants or finding a donated space.

"To move somewhere else with massive lease costs ... it paints a bleak picture for LIFT-UP's future," Freseman said. "We're 8 years old this spring. We think we've established LIFT-UP as a strong, viable and popular nonprofit in the community. There's a sense (among the organization's board members) that it's time for permanence."

LIFT-UP leases four separate rooms, including a modest suite of three offices in the George P. Sauer Human Services Center, which is owned by the Steamboat Springs School District. It pays 58 cents a square foot in monthly rent.

"We learned last spring that a 900-square-foot area we critically need for storage of food and clothing items related to our donations center (across the hall), we would likely need to be out of this coming summer," Freseman said.

The storage area supports the distribution center where LIFT-UP collects items for its food bank in the Human Services Center and its thrift store, located on the United Methodist Church campus.

LIFT-UP also learned it would lose its thrift store location at the church in the summer of 2005. And last week, Freseman was informed by the school district that it has no plans to renew the lease on the food bank space.

LIFT-UP is being asked to leave the Human Services Center to make room for new educational programs, Freseman said.

The convergence of events has resulted in the board focusing on searching for a single location for LIFT-UP.

Realtor Hal Unruh of Prudential Steamboat Realty is helping LIFT-UP with its hunt.

"The complication, aside from rental rates, is that we are seeking to be close to public transportation," Unruh said. "Visibility is also important. We haven't focused on exiting the core area of downtown yet."

LIFT-UP requires a mix of retail, warehouse and office space, Unruh said. But the nonprofit is willing to fund remodeling or finishing an available space. Given today's interest rates, and the possibility of attracting grants, Unruh said a bid to purchase a new home for LIFT-UP could result in a lower monthly cost than a lease.

Whatever the case, Freseman is resigned to the fact that his organization won't be able to find a space as modestly priced as the Human Services Center. Paying more money for its physical space undoubtedly will change the way LIFT-UP funds and delivers its services.

LIFT-UP Food Banks provided 9,900 bags of food and personal products with a value of more than $127,000 in 2003. In South Routt, it helped 473 people, including 192 children, with food, personal products, rent and utilities. Through the Hayden community fund, it assisted 22 households.

The total value of aid supplied was more than $173,000.

Freseman said the organization's operating budget last year was $220,000, 10 percent of which went toward rent. Of the $220,000 budget, about 60 percent came from proceeds generated through sales at the thrift store. The balance came from churches and donations from organizations and businesses.

Unruh can be reached at 871-6703.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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