Isis price tag precludes a fund drive | AspenTimes.com
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Isis price tag precludes a fund drive

Janet Urquhart

The arts groups in Aspen that would mostly likely have a role in saving the Isis Theatre are not prepared to jump into a $12 million capital drive to buy the building.

Representatives of the Aspen Art Museum, Aspen Filmfest, Theatre in the Park and the Music Associates of Aspen said Thursday that either the cost of renovating the building to meet their needs or the asking price for the building itself is too much for them to consider participating in such an undertaking.

They and a roomful of interested citizens and city representatives gathered with three members of the partnership that owns the Isis – Sam Houston, Frank Goldsmith and Charles Cunniffe – to discuss options for preserving the closed movie theater.

The $12 million price tag on the building proved a stumbling block for many on the community task force.

Without full disclosure on what the ownership group, Isis LLC, would make on the deal, MAA executive director Robert Harth said his board of directors has no interest in a capital campaign.

Neither does Filmfest, said executive director Laura Thielen.

“The real stumbling block is the price. The asking price is such that we really can’t considering going into a capital campaign,” she said. “At $12 million, we can’t even afford to brainstorm. There’s a perception that it’s an inflated price.”

Dean Sobel, director of the art museum, said the museum is interested in the first-floor space at the Isis, if the price comes down to about $8 million.

The museum, however, would not maintain the two main-floor theaters if it used the space. Most in the group want at least one of the large-screen theaters preserved.

Local television talk show host Andrew Kole pitched the most intriguing idea of the evening – leasing one of the main-floor theaters and two or three of the basement theaters and allowing the owners to convert the other half of the main floor to retail space. The retail rent, he theorized, could help bring down the lease price.

Such a division of the main floor is possible, confirmed Cunniffe, the architect for the Isis redevelopment.

“It’s the cheapest way in the door,” Kole said. “To me, to try and raise $17 million – Prada II is going to be there before we get that.”

Houston has estimated the value of the Hopkins Avenue cinema at $17 million or so, given its potential for lucrative high-end retail space on the main floor. Isis LLC is willing to sell the theater to the community for $12 million, assuming the partnership can use the difference as a tax writeoff, he said.

At $12 million, the partnership will take a loss of several million dollars, according to Houston. The price is also “very close” to the partnership’s costs, Cunniffe chimed in at one point.

Others were unconvinced.

“What we’ve been hearing is the price of $12 million is unjustifiable – that it’s both inhibiting anybody’s interest in a municipal role and anybody’s interest in a private role,” said Mayor Rachel Richards.

Houston reiterated his intention to keep the partnership’s financial affairs private, but said he would show the task force the numbers to prove the building is worth more than $12 million.

“To go beyond that and ask us questions about our private business, to me is inappropriate,” he said.

Houston said, however, that he would discuss Kole’s lease proposal with the partnership. “I think it’s not a bad idea,” he said.

To pay the lease costs, Kole suggested a small tax. The group also tossed around the idea of raising funds by selling shares in the theater to the community – in essence, letting everyone own a piece of it.

On another tack, Houston invited George Carisch, owner of the Stage 3 Theatres building, to give him a call. The idea of Carmike Cinemas, which operates at Stage 3, moving its commercial presence to the Isis may have merit, Houston said. The partnership, he added, might have interest in the Stage 3 property.

If the community does launch a fund-raising drive, Houston said he, Cunniffe and Goldsmith were prepared to give $250,000 to the effort.

He said he did not know if his other partners would step up, as well, though Richards pressed him for the identity of all the owners so the community could approach them about what they’re willing to give.

Task force members formed a financial group and an ideas group to further explore the options before adjourning.


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