Isis: A new hope
October 10, 2006
Moviegoers at the Isis Theatre were happy with plans to save the city’s only silver screens Tuesday night. Mayor Helen Klanderud announced at an afternoon press conference that the city had helped broker a deal to save the theater.”I’m not really big into movies, but obviously I’d like to see it stay,” said Steve Smith, one of the small crowd on hand to see “The Departed.” “The town seems to be losing enough things.”The city has partnered with private and nonprofit entities to preserve four of the five theaters at Hopkins Avenue moviehouse. The fifth theater, on the west side of the ground floor, and part of the lobby will become retail space.Losing one of the theaters didn’t bother local Will Rutledge, who thought the combined eight screens at the Isis and the now-defunct Stage 3 were “overkill.””There used to be three theaters,” he said. “We still have more than we had.”Laura Thielen, executive director of Aspen Filmfest, a partner in the deal, said the public can expect the same film fare the theater has offered until now after plans are finalized in December.”You’ll still have ‘Talladega Nights,’ and you’ll still have ‘Departed,'” as well as the usual smattering of specialty films, she said.Aspen taxpayers won’t pony up any money to buy the theater -an idea officials kicked around earlier this year.Instead, the city, Aspen Filmfest and the Isis Property Group LLC plan to acquire the property for $7.5 million through the sale of certificates of participation.The deal includes required affordable housing mitigation as well as a stipulation that the remaining theaters will always be either theaters or some other public amenity, precluding them from being sold for private use.Aspen’s role in the deal is as facilitator rather than as a financier. The city will issue the 30-year certificates of participation to attract investors, national or local, to back the acquisition of the property and some of the redevelopment, and the property itself will secure that investment. Monthly lease payments by the Isis Group and Filmfest will repay those investors over the life of the certificates, perhaps sooner. Once the certificates are paid off, ownership will transfer to the Isis Group and Aspen Filmfest.No taxpayer money will go toward the purchase, and the city will incur no debt. Rather, the city’s excellent credit rating will help secure a better interest rate through the certificates of participation, said City Finance Director Paul Menter.”We have the best credit rating of any resort community in the nation,” he said.The city used a similar tactic to buy open space on Smuggler Mountain last year, selling nontaxable open-space bonds. The certificates of participation will be subject to federal taxes, but Menter said the city’s credit rating should secure a “substantially lower” interest rate than either of the other partners could find commercially. A higher interest rate could have pushed the purchase out of reach for the partners. Filmfest’s $350,000 contribution, in fact, came through a donation from local philanthropist and retailer Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass.Key players in the deal included Menter, City Manager Steve Barwick, Assistant City Manager Randy Ready and other city staff members; Filmfest’s Thielen, President Lynda Palevsky and vice presidents Neil Karbank and Mel Blumenthal; and Isis Group partners Phil Holstein and Courtney Lord.Klanderud gave high praise to all the parties involved: “All of us who reside in this community owe a debt of gratitude to this negotiating group.”With the Isis for sale, Aspen faced losing its only full-time movie theater. Stage 3 Theatres have closed, and that property is the focus of a redevelopment plan. Many in city government and the community feared the Isis could face the same fate.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.