I was disappointed to read your editorial in the Dec. 10 Steamboat Today suggesting that the city should return the Rehder Building to the Rehder Estate, particularly because previously you have supported saving the city's historic landmarks. I believe that giving the building back creates a substantial risk that the building will be bought by a developer and torn down or radically altered, which would be a serious detriment to the city and the taxpayers and certainly would violate the wishes of Helen Rehder.
The gift to the city was a conditional gift requiring preservation of the building as an historic landmark and use of the building as a museum. The city accepted the gift subject to those conditions and must abide by them or give the building back. The city cannot sell the building or continue to operate it as a commercial building.
If the building is returned, then it becomes part of the residuary estate, and under the will there will be no conditions attached to the building, so it can be sold by the estate or the residuary beneficiaries to the highest bidder without restriction. The buyer will be free to demolish the building.
The building currently needs some relatively major repairs, and there will be ongoing costs to operate and maintain the building. If the city is willing to enter into a long-term lease with the Steamboat Art Museum (SAM), that lease can require SAM to pay all operating and maintenance costs during its term, thus freeing the city from that obligation. SAM probably does not have the resources to cover the costs at the moment, and one cannot expect SAM to be able to raise funds while it has just a short-term lease. But if the city would commit to a long-term lease, that would give SAM a foundation on which to raise funds to pay those costs.
Assuming an arrangement can be worked out for the tenant to pay future costs, then the only cost to the city is the currently required repairs. My understanding is that the city committed to SAM that it would make various repairs and budgeted about $750,000 and received an historic preservation grant of $150,000 toward those repairs. The city could provide in the SAM lease that the city would spend an agreed-upon amount during an agreed-upon time to pay for designated repairs, with SAM to cover the costs of any necessary repairs beyond this amount. Thus, through its lease, the city could limit its financial obligations with respect to ownership of the building.
To me, funds spent by the city on the Rehder Building should be viewed as an investment in the city's future prosperity rather than as a financial liability. The city finances numerous programs to enhance the attractiveness of the city for its citizens and tourists. Currently there is no way to assure that the building is preserved as an historic monument other than for the city to own the building under the terms of the will. Its listings on the National and Routt County Registers of Historic Places do not protect it. Even if City Council adopts the historic preservation ordinance proposed by the Citizens' Committee, the building can be demolished or altered in a manner inconsistent with its historic character unless the owner voluntarily chooses to preserve it.
Loss of that building would be detrimental to the city's historic and community character. A museum in the building will be a big asset in the city's cultural heritage and tourism efforts and will help bring people downtown. Helen Rehder generously provided an opportunity for the city to preserve the building. The city would be doing a disservice to its citizens, as well as to its reputation in giving back this gift as well as the grant funds already awarded to the city to help preserve it.