Aspen OKs retail leases for Isis Theatre |

Aspen OKs retail leases for Isis Theatre

ASPEN ” The Aspen City Council on Tuesday reluctantly approved a lease for a landscape photographer in the Isis Theatre building, with some elected officials saying it’s not the mid-priced retail use they want.

The council was set to sign off on the lease Monday, but City Councilman Steve Skadron pulled the item from the agenda because he questioned the appropriateness of allowing an art gallery in a city-owned building.

The council continued the discussion Tuesday, after getting legal advice from City Attorney John Worcester. The council voted unanimously to approve the lease, but not without first discussing the matter.

“We are having difficulty attracting entry-level or mid-level places where [locals] can shop,” Mayor Mick Ireland said. “We are not able to keep affordable places and so with some reluctance I will support this.”

City officials spent considerable time in the past year working out a deal that would keep four of the five movie screens operating. City Hall ended up financing the purchase of the historic theater and allowed one screen to be converted into retail space. That space is leased by the Isis Retail Group, a group of investors who were going to buy the theater before the city stepped in.

The city of Aspen owns the building and leases the space to Courtney Lord, who heads the retail group. Aspen Film leases the theater portion of the building and subleases it to Rocky Mountain Resort Cinemas. An agreement with the city stipulates that both local organizations have a right to own the spaces in 30 years.

The lease with Peter Lik, an Australian landscape photographer, will continue through 2017. Some of his works command thousands of dollars.

“It’s an extraordinary effort for another art gallery,” Skadron said.

When city officials were hashing out the details of the financing deal, a previous council determined that the retail stores should be affordable.

“It’s not precisely in the framework of what we were hoping for,” City Finance Director Paul Menter said Monday.

Lord has spent close to eight months looking for tenants. Since the deal closed in February, Lord has paid $300,000 in rent to the city.

“The Isis Retail Group made their best efforts,” Menter said.

The City Council in October approved a similar lease with Vanessa Kirianoff, owner of Blu Phoenix, a women’s clothing store. Kirianoff told The Aspen Times last week that the clothing will be priced moderate to high end.

It was reported this fall that a wine bar might occupy the space where the photo gallery has just signed on. That deal fell through, although operators of the wine bar are looking at other locations throughout downtown Aspen to set up shop, Menter told the council on Monday.

City Councilman Jack Johnson, who was on council during the financing deal, said the Isis Retail Group first suggested mid-level stores.

“[The gallery] does not agree with what we intended,” he said on Monday. “I didn’t like the wine bar, and I didn’t vote for it, and I don’t like the landscape photography because it’s not mid-level retail.”

Councilman Dwayne Romero said he can support the lease because it’s a reflection of a good effort made by Lord in filling the spaces.

Worcester on Monday told the council that while photography galleries weren’t initially part of the mid-level retail concept, it’s not completely out of line.

“My impression was that if it wasn’t Ralph Lauren or something like that, council would have a hard time not consenting,” he said.

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