City can’t curb owners of Isis |

City can’t curb owners of Isis

Janet Urquhart

Owners of the Isis Theatre can’t be forced into preserving the facility as a movie house, according to a memo distributed this week to the Aspen City Council.

The Isis owners will need an OK from the City Council to convert the vacant movie house to some other use, but nothing in the approvals they received to expand the building ties them to preserving it as a theater, the memo concludes.

An eight-page memo to the council recapping the approvals and concessions the city granted to allow the redevelopment of the former one-screen cinema into five screens was released yesterday. It was prepared by planning consultant Stan Clauson.

The summary, pulled from an inch-thick stack of meeting minutes and other documents, offers no real surprises, according to Julie Ann Woods, the city’s head planner.

“Knowing what all transpired helps us know what we’re up against,” she said.

It also lets developer Sam Houston, spokesman for Isis LLC, the ownership group, know what further exactions the owners might face if the theater is converted to some other use. They include providing housing or a cash-in-lieu payment for at least six more employees, possible parking mitigation and immediate payment of a deferred $250,000 open space fee.

In addition, a renovation of the building to accommodate a new use could force the owners to vie for approval through the city’s growth management competition.

“There’s not a whole lot of surprises,” Woods said. “This is just to be clear about what he [Houston] has to do. He’s going to have to come to the city . once he decides what he wants to do.”

Houston could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Isis has sat vacant since California-based Resort Theaters of America abruptly closed its Aspen operation on Dec. 7, after nearly a year of operation in the elegantly remodeled theater. Resort Theaters filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and executives said the company lost too much money in Aspen to keep the movie house open.

The theater closure gave way to rampant community speculation that the Hopkins Avenue building would become a mini-mall of high-end retailers. But Houston assured the City Council last week that he was doing his best to find a new theater operator to take over.

He suggested the best the community might be able to hope for is preserving the three small screens in the basement level, with conversion of the main floor to some other use.

During a January 1997 council meeting on the Isis redevelopment, Houston noted that the expanded theater could not be easily converted to other uses, given the sloping floors and 25-foot-high ceilings, according to minutes of the meeting.

If the building is converted to some other use, Clauson’s memo notes, the city could demand part or all of a deferred $250,000 open space payment, depending on how much of the building is converted.

Additional housing may also be required. According to the memo, when the Isis owners were seeking approvals for the redevelopment, their consultant, Sunny Vann, estimated the expansion would normally generate a requirement to house 11.45 employees, based on the increase in square footage. The theater use, however, required relatively few employees in relation to its square footage, and the developers were only required to provide housing for five full-time employees.

The worker housing was added to the building on a new third floor, along with a free-market unit.

The redeveloped Isis also got a break on parking requirements. Developers reasoned, and the city agreed, that a theater would draw a lot of pedestrian traffic and that most of the vehicle traffic it generated would come in the evening, when more space is available in the city’s parking garage and there’s less demand for on-street spaces.

The city could seek mitigation for parking if the building is used as retail space, according to Clauson.

His memo also noted that any changes to the exterior of the building and its 19th-century facade, including removal of the Isis sign, would require a review by the Historic Preservation Commission.

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