Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Art Museum and the city of Steamboat Springs are negotiating a long-term lease for the museum in the historic, city-owned Rehder Building. The resulting deal likely will result in the building's other tenants being forced to leave.
The late Helen Rehder bequeathed the century-old Rehder Building at Eighth Street and Lincoln Avenue to the city in 2004 on the condition that it "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."
The newly formed Steamboat Art Museum approached the city in 2006 about occupying the building after the Tread of Pioneers Museum rejected the city's offer to move from its Oak Street facilities. Vectra Bank and Antares restaurant also occupy the building, but in its proposal to the city, the museum has indicated it will eventually need control of the entire space.
"The space that we're in is small for what we're trying to do," said Wayne Westphale, vice president of the Steamboat Art Museum's board of directors.
Westphale said the museum needs the entire building to "present the appropriate kind of public face." He said the museum also hopes to one day have a cafe. The Antares space is especially valuable because of its alley access for shipping and receiving. Westphale said the museum was forced to unload its current exhibit from cars double-parked on Eighth Street.
"It just isn't a good situation," Westphale said.
While Vectra Bank has plans to move to a new location in 2009, Antares owner Diane Zahradnik has written the Steamboat Springs City Council many times expressing her desire to stay in the Rehder Building, the restaurant's home since 1994.
"The older building, it has a lot of charm," Zahradnik said. "It's kind of what goes with Antares. We just like the space."
Although she hopes to co-exist, Zahradnik said she understands the city has a duty to fulfill Rehder's will.
"We'll have to see what the negotiations bring with the city," Zahradnik said. "It would be really nice if we could get a 10-year lease, but I understand."
Westphale said the Antares space is not an imminent need for the museum and suggested in its proposal that the restaurant could stay at its current location for five more years.
"We're not pushing for them to leave that space soon," he said.
Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord said the Antares lease will be part of its negotiations with the art museum in coming weeks. The length of the museum's lease also will be a sticking point in the negotiations. The museum has requested 25 years, a length of time the city might not be comfortable with.
"That's a very, very, very long time," DuBord said.
Westphale said a long-term lease is necessary for the museum's fundraising efforts.
"We're looking to raise close to $3 million to renovate," he said. Donors "want to know that the establishment they've contributed to is going to be there in the future."
The museum also has requested a no-rent lease for the entire building, which is already heavily subsidized from the city's general fund despite the rental income it receives from Vectra Bank and Antares.
"That building may not be something the city can afford," Steamboat resident Bill Jameson said at a recent City Council meeting.
At the same City Council meeting, former council member Towny Anderson decried Jameson's comment and other discussion among council about how to employ the building in a way that would make money rather than lose it.
"That's not why people give the city gifts," Anderson said.
City Attorney Tony Lettunich said a no-rent lease wouldn't be unusual, noting other activities and facilities subsidized by the city. Lettunich cited Howelsen Hill, which he said is a "significant negative, budget-wise, every year."
"The whole Howelsen Hill operation is a benefit primarily to the Winter Sports Club," Lettunich said.
The Steamboat Springs Arts Council has a no-rent lease with the city for its facilities at the Depot Art Center.
"We don't see ourselves as very different or any different from the Arts Council," Westphale said.
DuBord noted that if the city took the stance of charging a market-rate rent for the building, it would likely be impossible for an organization like the Steamboat Art Museum to afford it.
Vectra Bank, for example, pays $40,480 annually in rent for its portion of the Rehder Building.
"It's a big subsidy," DuBord said. "That's a huge amount of money that a nonprofit organization would have to have for their operation."