City of Aspen as landlord forgives $73K in rent for tenants at Wheeler Opera House

Restoration work on exterior stone on historic building impacting restaurant and art gallery


Scafffolding has surrounded the Wheeler Opera House for months, and will be up until the summer.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times file photo

The city of Aspen is forgiving over $73,000 in rent for two tenants in the municipally owned Wheeler Opera House due to construction impacts.

Aspen City Council on Tuesday during a work session agreed to the requests of the proprietors of Aspen Public House and Valley Fine Art for rent abatement for at least 10 months.

In July, council agreed to rent relief for both tenants for the remainder of 2020 due to the anticipated impacts of the masonry project on the Wheeler Opera House. The project, which has the entire downtown building encapsulated with scaffolding, was set to finish in the spring.

The original project schedule was to complete as much work as possible on the east side of the building before Christmas. It was planned to demobilize before the holiday season with a re-mobilization in the spring to complete the remaining work, according to Rob Schober, the city’s project manager.

However, the project scope and the schedule now extend into the summer because the work on the stone is much more extensive than once thought.

Schober told council on Tuesday that the restoration crews replacing the stone said the historic building is in good shape for how old it is but is seeing more deterioration at the top where it’s impacted by water and sun.

The replacement stones, which mimic the peachblow stone that was quarried over 100 years ago in the Fryingpan Valley, will start to be put in in the coming weeks, Schober said.

“They are going to go over this whole building and it’s going to be good to go for another 100-plus years when we’re complete,” he said of the more than $1 million project.

Aspen City Council last year agreed to allow an accelerated schedule of the project, which was planned to be phased in 2021 and 2022, since the Wheeler Opera House has been closed since March due to COVID-19.

The rent that Valley Fine Art and Aspen Public House pay funds the city’s arts and culture grants for area nonprofits.

Nancy Lesley, interim Wheeler Opera House executive director, told council Tuesday that she and staff are exploring options for funding the deficit in the arts grant program.

Council members left it open to allow for rent abatement through July if necessary.

Bill Johnson, owner of Aspen Public House, said his plan was to reopen the restaurant in December but now that the Pitkin County Board of Health banned indoor dining, he is especially hard hit.

Mayor Torre, who serves on the public health board, said he appreciated Johnson’s efforts to reopen despite the construction around his business.

“And lo and behold, here we are in Red restrictions, and so timing is everything and in this case it was nothing,” he said.

Scaffolding in front of the restaurant and bar this spring and summer also will hinder business, Johnson said.

Schober said the expectation is that the scaffolding will come down in June along Mill Street and on Hyman Avenue in July.

“With the situation the restaurant is in I will take every bit of financial assistance I can,” Johnson said.

Valley said the majority of her customers are walk-ins, and some people have told her that they have been reluctant to enter into the walkway due to social distancing concerns as a result of COVID-19.

Valley Fine Art pays $3,775.02 a month and Aspen Public House pays $10,897.17 a month. If rent is forgiven through July, the deficit to the arts grant program would be $102,705.33.


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