Boulder will lease historic Harbeck House, with an eye on community value

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Courtesy City of Boulder

Saturday, April 13, 2019 (Updated Tuesday, April 16, 2019)

Boulder is on track to lease the historic Harbeck-Bergheim house it purchased 40 years ago, hoping to fetch enough to cover the $36,000 in annual operation and maintenance costs for the 120-year-old property. City council approved that approach 6-1 on Tuesday night but said they would be willing to subsidize the cost of owning and maintaining the home, given the value it provides to the community.

The city has been mulling options for Harbeck since last July when its tenant of 34 years, the Museum of Boulder, left for a new space. Built in 1899, the home is in need of major repairs. What can be done with it is limited: it was purchased in 1979 using Parks and Recreation funds, so as park property, its use must be aligned with department goals.

Among the options was to sell the house, appraised at $3.066 million, and use the proceeds to fund some of the department’s $16.6 million maintenance backlog. Improvements are needed at Columbia Cemetery, Glen Huntington Bandshell, Valmont City Park, Boulder Pottery Lab and Chautauqua, among others.

Councilman Bob Yates, the night’s lone voice of dissent, argued for a sale, saying that if Harbeck was on the market today, Boulder wouldn’t spend $3 million to buy it. The city doesn’t need to own it to protect it: its landmarked status, plus deed restrictions and city covenants could do that.

With a lease, “the best we can hope for is to break-even,” he said, “and the beneficiary is one tenant.” If it were sold, the profit could go to parks and rec projects “that benefit the entire community. ”

“Usually i’m aligned with historic preservation community. This is one instance I’m going to be the crotchety fiscal conservative. Sorry.”

During the months-long public feedback process, which included open houses, community meetings and an online survey, retaining Harbeck and leasing it out emerged as the preferred option, though there was some support for a sale as well. PRAB and the Landmarks board favor a leasing strategy.

Twenty members of the public spoke Tuesday night, all in favor of the city keeping Harbeck and leasing it either for market-rate or below. Some called for investment to — as Carol Taylor of Historic Boulder put it — “make this property shine like the jewel is was meant to be.”

Harbeck would need to bring in at least $36,000 a year to pay for annual operation and maintenance costs, though market-rate rents for residential and office space would likely raise more revenue. Located at 1206 Euclid Ave., officials estimate that it is worth $3,330 per month as a single-family home ($39,600 yearly) or $6,828 per month as offices ($81,929 annually).

The property would be worth more if it was renovated. A professional estimate found that $468,000 is needed to get Harbeck up to snuff as a single-family home; $441,000 for use as office spaces. Those upgrades would put market rents closer to $4,500 per month as a residential dwelling ($54,000 annually) and $10,462 monthly as office space ($125,545 per year).

Staff recommended that Harbeck be rented at market rates unless certain community values are met by a tenant: interior preservation, neighborhood compatibility, public access, or community use. The city should be “flexible” on the idea of getting its money back, Mayor Suzanne Jones said: The home is an asset to the community, and as such, it’s appropriate for the city to invest in that asset.

The city will next put out a request for proposals for lessees. Last year, parks and rec staff said there were a number of parties interested in a lease, including several nonprofits and the University of Colorado.

This article was updated to include comments from city council and members of the public following Tuesday night’s meeting.

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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