City eyes new deal to buy Isis |

City eyes new deal to buy Isis

Janet Urquhart

Aspen is mulling an opportunity to put the Isis Theater under contract and let city voters decide in November whether to follow through with the $8.75 million purchase.The deal, if the City Council agrees to move forward with the purchase contract, requires a nonrefundable $500,000 in earnest money – cash the city would forfeit to the Isis owners if voters nix the purchase in the fall.City officials announced Thursday that they were drawing up a contract for the council’s consideration during a special meeting Monday. In the interim, residents should weigh in with council members, Mayor Helen Klanderud advised.”We want to hear your feedback on this proposal,” she said.If the deal goes to voters and they approve it, the city will look to either a sales tax hike or property tax increase to pay off the debt it will incur for the purchase, Klanderud said.City voters turned down a lease/purchase deal for the five-screen Isis several years ago, but since then, things have changed, city officials noted.The three-screen Stage 3 Theatres on Main Street closed after Thursday night’s shows. Buyers of the Stage 3 property are reportedly eyeing its redevelopment.”I think the big difference between then and now is the Stage 3 is reported to be closing,” said John Worcester, city attorney.In spring 2001, voters rejected a proposed 0.2 percent sales tax that would have supplied revenue to lease the Isis while the government explored purchasing it. At that time, Stage 3 was in operation, but the Isis was vacant – its operator had declared bankruptcy and pulled out.Under the terms of the 2001 deal, the city had the option to buy the Isis for $9.5 million if it acted within the first year of a 20-year lease for the movie house. There was also an option to buy the theater in the three subsequent years for a price that escalated by 4 percent per year.”I think there were concerns that this was government competing in a very tight market with another theater,” said Klanderud, who was not a council member at the time. “With the closing of the Stage 3, that’s no longer an issue.”The city’s Wheeler Opera House, which shows films when it is not staging with other performances, is Aspen’s only other downtown movie venue.Council members believe it’s important for Aspen to retain a downtown movie theater, and the sale of the Isis potentially puts its future as a movie house in jeopardy, Klanderud noted.One contract with a potential purchaser has fallen through, but the partnership that owns the theater has two other offers on the table, according to Sam Houston, one of the Isis owners. With those offers pending, the Isis owners asked the city if it was interested in the property.This may be the city’s last chance to acquire the Hopkins Avenue property, Houston said, calling the deal with the city within “the ballpark” of the other two offers. “We never chose as a partnership to convert the theater,” Houston added. “A subsequent buyer likely will.”Both other potential buyers of the cinema would probably eliminate the two street-level screens, Klanderud said, and they could also convert the three basement theaters.The city, if it buys the facility, has no plan to do anything with the Isis other than have it continue as a movie theater run by the existing operator, Klanderud said. The city may entertain discussions with local nonprofits that could potentially use it, as well, she said.The mayor and Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss, both attending a news conference to announce the city’s consideration of the Isis contract, indicated support for the idea. Councilman Torre was not sure.”There are a lot of outstanding questions that have to be answered for me,” he said.The Isis has been Aspen’s movie theater since it opened and started showing silent pictures in 1915 in the H. Webber building. It remained a funky, one-screen theater into the 1990s, run for three decades by Dominic and Kitty Linza. They sold the property to Houston and his partners in 1998.The new owners undertook an ambitious renovation, turning the Isis into a five-screen, state-of-the-art cinema. The expanded theater debuted in December 1999 and closed a year later, when operator Resort Theaters of America declared bankruptcy.The Isis sat vacant until June 2002, when Rocky Mountain Resort Cinemas reopened the theater after negotiating a lease with the owners. Rocky Mountain continues to run the theater.The Isis owners put the building on the market in May 2001 for $13.3 million. By the summer of 2003, the price had dropped to $7.9 million. The building includes two employee rental units and a rooftop penthouse that is under separate ownership and not part of the proposed purchase deal.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is

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