City brokers deal to save the Isis | AspenTimes.com

City brokers deal to save the Isis

Abigail Eagye

Long-awaited plans to save the Isis Theatre came to fruition today.

Mayor Helen Klanderud announced this afternoon that a public-private nonprofit partnership will acquire the Isis for $7.5 million.

The city, Aspen FilmFest and the Isis Property Group LLC have collaborated to preserve four of the five theaters at the Hopkins Avenue moviehouse. The fifth theater, on the ground floor, and part of the lobby will become retail space.

Laura Thielen, FilmFest’s executive director, said Aspenites can expect the same film fare at the Isis that the theater has offered until now.

“You’ll still have ‘Talladega Nights,’ and you’ll still have ‘Departed,'” she said, as well as the usual smattering of specialty films.

The city’s role in the deal is not financier, but facilitator. The city will issue 30-year certificates of participation to attract investors, national or local, to back the acquisition of the property, and the property itself will secure that investment. Monthly lease payments by the Isis Group and Aspen FilmFest will repay those investors over the life of the certificates, perhaps sooner. Once the certificates are paid off, ownership will transfer to the Isis Group and Aspen FilmFest.

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No taxpayer money will go toward the purchase. Rather, the city’s excellent credit rating will be used to secure a lower interest rate on the certificates of participation, said Paul Menter, city finance director.

“We have the best credit rating of any resort community in the nation,” he said.

The city used a similar tactic to help buy open space on Smuggler Mountain last year, selling non-taxable open-space bonds. The certificates of participation will be subject to federal taxes, but Menter said the city’s credit rating should secure a “substantially lower” interest rate than either of the other partners could find commercially. A higher interest rate could have pushed the purchase out of reach for the partners.

During the months-long, closed-door negotiations, FilmFest was facing a potential shortfall of $350,000, but local philanthropist and retailer Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass came up with the difference.

Key players in the deal included Menter and other city staff members; FilmFest’s Thielen, President Lynda Palevsky and Vice Presidents Neil Karbank and Mel Blumenthal; and Isis Group partners Phil Holstein and Courtney Lord.

Klanderud gave high praise to all the parties involved: “All of us who reside in this community owe a debt of gratitude to this negotiating group.”

With the Isis for sale, Aspen faced losing its only full-time movie theater. Stage 3 Theatres have closed and that property is the focus of a redevelopment plan. Many in city government and the community feared the Isis could face the same fate.

For more on the deal to preserve the Isis, see Wednesday’s Aspen Times.

Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is abby@aspentimes.com.