Despite concerns, Steamboat City Council could approve art museum lease tonight | SteamboatToday.com

Despite concerns, Steamboat City Council could approve art museum lease tonight

Mike Lawrence

— The Steamboat Art Museum could receive a long-term lease for $1 a year tonight, securing plans for the historic, downtown Rehder Building that some city officials and residents continue to see as a boon and a burden.

The Steamboat Springs City Council is slated to decide on final approval of the museum's new lease agreement tonight at Centennial Hall on 10th Street, in a meeting that begins shortly after 5 p.m. Tonight's meeting also includes the first reading of a proposal to extend a city fee on building permits; continued discussion about how to allocate $750,000 in unallocated city revenue from 2009; and possibly, City Council President Cari Hermacinski said Monday, the council's first discussion of how the city should move forward with planning for growth after last week's resounding defeat of the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation.

"I bet there will be some lively discussion on that," Hermacinski said about Steamboat 700, which city voters denied with 61 percent of the vote a week ago. "Where do we go from here? What role does the City Council play? … I think it's the appropriate time to get some of those issues out on the table."

That conversation could come during council members' reports near the end of tonight's meeting. Scheduled earlier is the Steamboat Art Museum's lease, which would be for 99 years but could be terminated with 36 months notice after two years — essentially, in five years. City Council gave the lease unanimous initial approval in a 6-0 vote March 2, when Councilman Walter Magill was absent. But council members Scott Myller and Jim Engelken supported the idea of renegotiating the lease in the future, when the Steamboat Art Museum is more financially secure, given the city's tight finances and the costs of maintaining the Rehder Building.

The late Helen Rehder bequeathed the century-old 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 lifestyles of settlers in Routt County."

The city spent $311,000 on repairs to the building in 2008-09. The city also has received a $150,000 grant from a state historic society and $75,000 from the Rehder estate for additional improvements. The lease agreement states Steamboat Art Museum is liable for interior maintenance of the building, while the city is liable for all major exterior maintenance.

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A document by city staff to City Council states the risk of that liability.

"Conflicts may arise since there is not revenue for the building and exterior repairs and maintenance will likely come up in the future," the report states.

Steamboat resident Bill Jameson raised concerns about the city's liability March 2.

"Isn't it time … that (Steamboat Art Museum) take on the obligation of maintaining that structure?" Jameson asked.

City Finance Director Deb Hinsvark cited the lease agreement's "termination ability" and the museum's value to the community and visitors.

"You don't want to empty downtown, and you have a museum that's of interest to our tourists," Hinsvark said. "For the time being, it seems like a wonderful use of the building."

Steamboat Art Museum board member Rod Hanna said March 2 that the museum's ideas for expansion in the building include an art library, a coffee shop, offices and additional exhibition space.

City attorney Tony Lettunich said the lease agreement was negotiated to help the art museum achieve long-term financial independence.

"There was some concern that if we set (the museum) up for failure, we wouldn't be doing anyone any favors," Lettunich said.

Hermacinski said the building presents a dilemma in a time of declining city sales tax revenues and resulting budget cuts.

"I've been concerned about the Rehder Building since it was gifted to the city," Hermacinski said. "It was an incredible gift, but it came as a historic building with 40 years of deferred maintenance."

If you go

What: Meeting of the Steamboat Springs City Council

When: 5:15 p.m. today

Where: Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

Contact: Call City Hall at 970-879-2060 or visit this site for more information.

On the agenda

■ 5 p.m. City Council convenes as the city’s Liquor License Authority to conduct an application hearing for Sweetwater Grill, a proposed restaurant in the old Yacht Club location on Yampa Street.

■ 5:05 p.m. City Council convenes as the city’s Redevelopment Authority, including an update of construction plans at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

■ 5:15 p.m. City Council meeting begins. Items include a proclamation recognizing March 21 to 27 as Boy Scout Week in Steamboat Springs; a discussion of Teen Council survey results; a proclamation recognizing April 2 as Hometown Heroes Day in Steamboat; a discussion of Yampa Valley Housing Authority’s down payment assistance program; first reading of ordinance to extend city’s current franchise fee agreement with Atmos Energy, while new agreement is negotiated; first reading of ordinance to extend community development fee on city building permits; 2009 and 2010 supplemental budget requests

■ 7 p.m. Public comment; second and potentially final reading of ordinance approving a new lease with Steamboat Art Museum; final development plan to add 22 rooms to Fairfield Inn; discussion of proposed rates for Haymaker Golf Course

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