Letter: Help the Wheeler at the polls
This election, Aspen residents have the opportunity to renew their support for a building and community resource that has been a benefit to us all. The Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax (WRETT) has paid for the ongoing renovation of the Wheeler Opera House, one of the most iconic and well loved buildings in our town. In just the past five years, the upstairs balcony has been completely rebuilt, issues with the upstairs bar have been fixed, the area has been expanded and updated, and the downstairs entry lobby has been opened up and improved. There also have been countless other repairs behind the scenes, from new electrical systems to structural reinforcement to safety improvements.
The WRETT also has helped pay a portion of annual Wheeler operating costs This money allows the Wheeler to book level national musical, theater, film, comedy, family and other acts at affordable prices for locals and visitors. It also helps local schools and other arts groups rent the Wheeler at significantly discounted rental rates. In addition, every single year around $350,000 of money is given to local arts groups such as Anderson Ranch, Aspen Choral Society, Aspen Community Theater, Aspen Film, Aspen Ballet, Aspen Writers Foundation, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Aspen Music Festival, Red Brick Center for the Arts, Theater Masters and Theater Aspen.
Due to increases in real estate prices, the WRETT has also built up a significant reserve fund. This fund is protected and separate from the City of Aspen's budget and can only used to support the Wheeler and local arts. If voters want to change that, they will have the opportunity to vote on uses of the fund in future elections.
The WRETT is a tax that many voters never pay, or only pay once when they buy a home in Aspen, at a rate of half a percent of the home purchase price. Renters do not pay the WRETT. Homebuyers in the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority program do not pay the WRETT. It's not an annual tax or a sales tax paid on goods bought in Aspen. This type of real estate transfer tax is rare in Colorado and due to changes in state laws, if they don't get renewed then they are gone forever. If the rates are reduced, then they can never be raised. This is important because amount of money that the WRETT brings in every year is dependent on real estate sales, which we all know can be very volatile.
If the WRETT isn't renewed, then reserve fund would be able sustain current operations for a few years, but after that the Wheeler would have to rely on the city budget, private donations or corporate sponsorships to raise additional money for renovations. Ticket prices would likely go up, rental rates for schools and local groups would likely increase and there would be less money available to local nonprofit arts organizations.
Please vote "yes" on 2E and support the Wheeler Opera House, local arts groups in Aspen and your community.