At Project Share

John Lambert of East Swanzey finds several pieces of clothing at a bargain price at the Project Share Thrift Store in the basement of the Keene Recreation Center last month.

A nonprofit thrift store that’s called a Keene basement home for the past 50 years can stay there rent-free at least until June.

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to allow City Manager Elizabeth A. Dragon to negotiate a lease agreement with Project Share, which is a tenant in the Keene Recreation Center on Washington Street.

That lease would run until June 30, the end of this fiscal year, and would give Project Share time to go through the standard process of applying for financial support from the city as other nonprofit groups do. If granted, that support could be in the form of free or reduced rent.

Project Share sells used clothing and other items out of the 2,000-square-foot basement. The proceeds go toward an annual Christmastime charity initiative, Project Santa, which gives clothes and toys to kids being raised by grandparents, according to Tammy Catozzi of Swanzey, who runs the organization.

Project Share serves about 250 to 300 kids each year, she has said.

Catozzi said previously that she expected to close at the end of the year because the city wanted to start charging rent.

Andy Bohannon, Keene’s director of parks, recreation and facilities, told a council committee last week that Project Share has used the basement rent-free without a written agreement since it moved in around 1970.

Dragon told The Sentinel earlier this month that she became aware of the organization when the city was considering whether to expand the recreation center to house the Keene Senior Center. She said she found the lack of a formal agreement “concerning.”

City officials proposed formalizing the arrangement in writing and instituting a $600 monthly rent to cover expenses like heat, electricity and garbage removal, she said. Project Share countered with $300, which Dragon said the city rejected.

The news that Project Share expected to be out of the space after January generated a strong response. The Sentinel’s Aug. 17 report on the topic drew 170 comments, and 305 people signed a Change.org petition titled “Keep Project Share Rent Free.”

The topic was subsequently added to the finance, organization and personnel committee’s agenda last week.

Sierra Hubbard can be reached at 355-8546 or at shubbard@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SierraHubbardKS.