Steamboat Springs Arts Council to remain at Depot Art Center

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— Steamboat Springs won’t solicit bids for an operator of the Depot Art Center.

One of several strategic initiatives presented Tuesday night to the Steamboat Springs City Council was issuing requests for proposals from organizations to run the century-old restored train station for a fee. The initiatives were intended to save money or generate additional revenue. City staff identified the initiatives during the budget process in October, and they were supported by City Council members.

The Steamboat Springs Arts Council has operated from the Depot since 1972, when resident Eleanor Bliss led an effort to raise more than $400,000 to save the building. At Tuesday’s meeting, 11 local arts supporters opposed putting the Depot out to bids.

“They’ve been, I think, an exceptional steward of the building and an exceptional supporter and incubator for the arts in Steamboat,” said Stuart Handloff, artistic director of The Great American Laughing Stock Co., an affiliate organization of the Arts Council. “Especially over the last few years, I think they’ve taken everything up a few notches, in terms of performing arts, visual arts. I think they’ve really raised the profile of the building and the arts community in general. My feeling to you all is you’ve got a really good partner here, a really good caretaker of a city asset. Why rock the boat? It’s not broken. You don’t need to fix it.”

Deputy City Manager Deb Hinsvark presented the strategic initiatives, which also included other revenue sources, privatizing services, reorganization of city departments and leasing equipment instead of buying it to generate $130,726 to $224,526. She was looking for feedback from council members, who didn’t take action on the initiatives with the exception of the Depot.

The City Council unanimously approved a motion directing city staff to negotiate a lease with the Arts Council that, after it expired, would open the Depot to the bid process.

City Council member Cari Hermacinski wanted to clarify that putting city facilities up for public bid was a policy adopted in 2008 and not a reflection on the Arts Council.

“That was something we started years ago, that as contracts come up, they need to be put out,” she said. “That’s part of the fiduciary duty of us to the taxpayers.”

City Council member Kenny Reisman took that thought a step further by saying, “It’s just a question of standardizing how we do business.”

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, Arts Council Executive Director Clark Davidson said he was blindsided by recently learning the city would consider putting the Depot up for bid. He said city officials told him more than a year ago that the 40-year relationship between both entities would continue.

“I’m glad that City Council was thoughtful regarding this issue,” Davidson said after the meeting. “And the Arts Council will continue to be the best steward of the Depot it can be.”

In other action, the City Council:

■ Accepted the final report from the Tax Policy Advisory Board, which evaluated Steamboat’s sales tax-based economy and whether a property tax would be a more equitable way for the city to generate revenue. The volunteer group concluded that substituting a revenue-neutral property tax in favor of a portion of sales taxes would be detrimental to local residents and business owners. Half the group, however, supported a property tax in favor of sales taxes on groceries.

It included several recommendations, which city staff will review. The report also will be presented to the public.

City Council members praised the report and thanked members of the advisory board, who worked for more than a year to put it together.

“I love this report,” Hermacinski said. “Thank you for all of your work.”

■ Unanimously approved a second reading of a modification to the Bear River Parcel Master Plan to add a bike skills park.

■ Unanimously approved the intent to provide a $68,840 match for $331,160 in congestion management/air quality grant funds.

■ Unanimously approved the creation of a creative district downtown.

■ Unanimously approved an amendment to the development agreement for Howelsen Place for alternative compliance to satisfy affordable housing requirements.

■ Heard updates about Steamboat’s development review process from Planning Director Tyler Gibbs.

■ Heard updates about oil and gas issues from City Attorney Tony Lettunich.

■ Heard updates about how the city will update salary surveys and its pay plan from Human Resources Director John Thrasher. Thrasher, who is retiring after more than 30 years with the city, gave his final presentation to the City Council. His last day is Feb. 2.

City Council members applauded Thrasher after his presentation.

“Thank you very much, and it’s been my pleasure,” he said.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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