David Koch had decades-long history in Aspen, from ice-rink idea to investing in Isis Theater rebuild
David Koch, the billionaire who along with his brothers built an empire then put their money into many conservative causes, had a history in Aspen dating back nearly 30 years when he bought his first home here.
Koch died Friday, and the cause of death was not disclosed. He was 79.
In the 1990s, Koch was a significant investor in revamping the Isis Theater building and was behind a failed plan in 1992 to try to put an ice rink in Wagner Park during the winters.
Koch wanted to spend $3 million on the project and to donate an Olympic-sized rink to the city of Aspen, according to Aspen Times reports. Koch spent at least $50,000 on planning and designing for the rink, which was to be converted back into a playing field each summer.
The proposal generated a lot of discussion, but City Council rejected the plan by a 3-2 vote and the idea died.
John Bennett was mayor of Aspen from 1991 to ’99 and said Friday though he didn’t agree with Koch’s politics on a national level he found that Koch “clearly cared about this community and wanted to support local nonprofits he believed in.”
“I was fascinated by the ice rink proposal,” Bennett said. “What I remember was it sounded like an interesting and generous offer. That was a really tough one for me. On one hand we had an Aspen resident and major philanthropist, and without question a huge amenity for the community, and it would have been amazing.
“But taking it out each summer and getting it back to park for other events … it felt insanely complicated. That’s what finally made the council vote it down.”
In the mid 1990s, the building that housed Aspen’s one-screen movie theater went up for sale. In an effort to keep it as a theater, longtime Aspen resident Sam Houston put together a group of co-investors. They bought the building and renovated it into a multi-screen cinema, which remains today on Hopkins Avenue.
“When I developed the Isis Theater in the mid 1990s, David Koch was the lead investor,” Houston said Friday. “He was a great partner, a man of his word, honest and fair. I’m sorry for his family’s loss.”
Koch remained a visible member of Aspen’s community of part-time residents. He was on the board of the Aspen Institute and was well known for his lavish New Year’s Eve parties and the well-stocked wine cellar at his West End home.
According to Pitkin County Assessor’s office, Koch bought his first house in Aspen’s West End on Roaring Fork Road in January 1989 for $1.9 million. That property is valued at $16.1 million this year, according to the county records.
The nearly 8,100-square-foot house is listed as five bedrooms, seven and a half bathrooms and sits on just over 1 acre of land near the Aspen Meadows campus.
Koch then bought the home next to it in December 1991 for $1.75 million.
That house is 2,675 square feet with three bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms and is valued at $7.4 million, according to 2019 county tax records.
The David H. Koch Hall sits nearby the houses on the campus of the Aspen Institute, and Koch had dealings in downtown Aspen as well over the years.
His brother Bill bought the Elk Mountain Lodge property for $26.46 million in 2007 and poured millions of dollars into remodels and landscaping. The Pitkin County commissioners granted permission to convert the lodge into a single-family home in April 2007. Elk Mountain Lodge has a long history as an event venue in the Castle Creek Valley.
Koch Industries said Koch, who lived in New York City, had contended for years with various illnesses, including prostate cancer, the Associated Press reported.
Koch is survived by his wife and their three children.
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