Towny Anderson: Doing the right thing

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— How did the agreement enabling Steamboat Art Museum to lease the Rehder Building, first consummated in principle in 2007, become so politicized that City Council President Loui Antonucci was compelled to declare at the Dec. 2 meeting, "Hopefully between now and some point in the future we will know what our options are"?

Under Article 2.3 - Specific and General Gifts, Helen Rehder's will states that she will give the city the property, and, "It is my wish and direction that the property 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. If this gift fails because of an unwillingness or legal prohibition against the property being owned and operated as a museum by the city of Steamboat Springs, it shall be become [sic] part of my residuary estate."

It is abundantly clear that Helen Rehder directed three things to happen: 1) the property would be given to the city, 2) the property would be preserved as a historic monument, and 3) the city would operate the property as a museum. In accepting the property, the city knew that it was legally committing itself to preserve the property and operate it as a museum.

Jace Romick used to have his Into the West store in the Rehder Building. He was a good friend of Helen's. He understood that when the property was willed to the city that his lease would not be renewed. He bought another building and moved his store. The Vectra Bank knew its lease would not be renewed, and it negotiated a transition period during which it also generously underwrote a portion of SAM's lease to help SAM get started. Vectra has moved to Howelsen Place. Antares' owners know that their lease will soon end, but they do not seem to have any plans other than to close the restaurant if the city does not extend their lease at the generous rate Helen Rehder negotiated with Antares' predecessors many years before her death.

The city had spent countless hours discussing leases and rental income until it finally agreed that Helen's purpose in gifting this building to the city was not to generate income for the city. Yet the issue of income still rears its ugly head to this day. The city has accepted many bequests and gifts. Never, to my knowledge, has the city demanded that a bequest of land pay for itself or generate income for the city. Why has this been an issue with the Rehder Building? If Helen had wanted the restaurant, the bank or a retailer to operate in the building, she would have stated so explicitly. If she wanted the city to generate revenue from the building, she certainly would not have requested that it be operated as a museum.

In 2007, the city and SAM agreed to negotiate a long-term lease for $1 per year. The city agreed to make the exterior repairs that had been long neglected. This included the roof, walls and foundation. The city would turn the building over to SAM with these repairs completed, or committed to be completed, with the agreement that SAM would be responsible for all interior repairs and improvements and all the operating and maintenance costs for the term of the lease. The city would use State Historical Fund grants and matching city dollars. At the time, the amount of funds, including grants, was designated to be $750,000 throughout two fiscal years.

Now the city wants to relinquish its interest in the building, preferably to SAM, despite the explicit direction from Helen Rehder that it is a conditional gift to the city. The city cannot sell the building (see quote above). In the event the city is not willing to or cannot legally abide by the terms of the will, it can only return the property to become part of her residuary estate.

If the city is concerned whether SAM, as a long-term lessee, will take proper care of the building, it can describe a standard of maintenance in the lease agreement with a provision that the lessee vacate the building if the standard is not met.

So what is the problem? Twenty years since its inception, does anyone question the value of the city's investment in Strings Music Festival? Why are we not looking at Helen Rehder's gift and SAM as an opportunity of equal value? Where is the vision?

This is not a matter of "knowing what our options are." It is a matter of putting politics aside and being a good steward, and of honoring a gift and its donor. City, do the right thing. Honor the original agreement with SAM, negotiate the long-term lease, commit the rehabilitation funds, and support a group with true vision. And most of all, show our respect and gratitude for one of Routt County's most generous benefactors.

Comments

Scott Berry 5 years, 4 months ago

Well, Towny, your council accepted a sow's ear as a "gift that keeps on taking"! I realize that "revenue" is anathema to your concept of governance, but it is essential in today's economy. The days of recklessly spending the taxpayer's reserves hopefully ended with your council. The Rehder building and related grants must be returned to their respective grantors so the city can end the daily financial drain.

And please Towny, the money expended for the Strings Music Festival is a subsidy, not an investment. In fact, the subsidy has been so successful that their board now believes it is an entitlement, soon to become "a core government service".

Towny, your article was well written and documented, but using other peoples money (taxes) to mold an "utopian" environment is not the function of the city council.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

It was a kind gift that was not well thought out. Nice to give a building. Not so nice that the renovation to a museum costs $750,000. If the museum were to take over the city's share of the renovation and maintenance costs then there would be no controversy. When the City needs to spend $350K or so now or lose the matching funds then there is a huge problem.

The building should have been to the museum so that they could balance their income and fund raising vs expenses and then decide if they needed the income from tenants in part of the building or what.

It is not a great deal for the City to spend a chunk on renovations and then expect to get annual requests to support operating the museum. And we already have two nice subsidized museum (Tread of Pioneers and Art Depot). So there appears to be little need for a third museum and the lack of museum supporters willing to pay for the renovations is an indication of it's level of public support.

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