City officials take lead in drive to save the Isis | AspenTimes.com
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City officials take lead in drive to save the Isis

Janet Urquhart

The city hopes to host a brainstorming session this month with the owners of the Isis Theatre and anyone else with ideas on how to save the cinema.

Perhaps no one is more interested in seeing the effort succeed than the couple who ran the theater for 30 years.

Dominic and Kitty Linza sold the funky old one-screen theater to a group of new owners in 1998 and retired to Grand Junction. They are keeping tabs from afar on the latest developments with their beloved Isis, which was redeveloped as a five-screen theater and operated for nearly a year before its operators pulled out last month.

“I felt so good when we were able to leave it as a theater,” Dominic said from his home yesterday. “My wife and I are just heartbroken over the fact that it might not be a theater anymore.”

Like the movie lovers they left behind in Aspen, the Linzas are hoping the Isis can be retained as a theater. City officials and developer Sam Houston, spokesman for the theater’s owners, have expressed the same sentiment.

The question is how.

That will be the topic at a City Council work session tentatively scheduled for Jan. 16, according to City Manager Steve Barwick. “It’ll be a wide open public meeting,” he said.

Mayor Rachel Richards expressed hope last month that a consortium of Aspen interests working together might be able to save the Isis. Aspen Filmfest, which has long called the Isis home, and other organizations could perhaps make sufficient use of the theater, she suggested.

Filmfest is currently circulating petitions that call on the Isis owners to live up to their stated intentions to retain the Isis as a theater when the property was under city review for its multimillion-dollar renovation.

“We believe these claims were made in good faith and we call upon them to honor their pledged commitment,” the petition reads in part.

“We urge the city of Aspen, the Isis LLC and other involved parties to thoughtfully and thoroughly explore every possible avenue to ensure the Isis’ future as our movie theater,” it concludes.

Resort Theaters of America, which leased the Isis and operated the five-screen cinema before abruptly closing the operation on Dec. 7, is currently in bankruptcy proceedings. A Resort Theaters executive said the Aspen theater lost $700,000 in a year.

Houston told the City Council last month that he was working to find a new operator for the theater, but that conversion of part of the Isis to some other use might be the only way to save the rest as a theater.

Linza said he would accept seeing some of the building converted to a retail use if the move would make operation of the rest of the theater financially viable.

The Isis has three screens in its basement level and two larger ones on the main floor. Community speculation that part or all of the building is destined to become high-end retail space has been rampant since the theater shut down.

Houston could not be reached for comment yesterday.

After the Isis closed, city officials dug up meeting minutes and other documents related to the theater’s redevelopment approvals to see what leverage the city has to force continued operation of the property as a theater.

A report prepared for the council last week indicates there is nothing in the approvals that ties the owners to preserving it as a theater.

“We knew at the time that there was a risk involved,” said John Bennett, who was mayor when the Isis redevelopment was approved. “It was noted by many at the time that we had no iron-clad guarantees that it would be maintained as a theater.

“Certainly, a lot of the reason it sailed through [the Historic Preservation Commission], though, was its historic use as a theater was continuing,” he added.

The theater’s owners did receive concessions on the amount of affordable housing that they were required to provide. They were also allowed to delay payment of $250,000 in open space fees. Any plan to convert part or all of the Hopkins Avenue building to some other use could trigger demands for additional housing and immediate payment of the open space fees, according to the city report.

When the Isis redevelopment was approved, city officials hoped the tremendous expense of creating the five-screen theater and the need for additional housing if it was converted would be enough to ensure the Isis’ continued use as a theater, Bennett recalled.

“We thought those things would make it difficult to use the theater for something else,” he said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t make it impossible.”


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