Isis Theatre price chills enthusiasm |

Isis Theatre price chills enthusiasm

Janet Urquhart

The community task force charged with figuring out how to save the Isis Theatre will meet for the first time today to grapple with its daunting assignment.

Given the $12 million price tag the Isis owners have placed on the five-screen movie house, some members understandably aren’t voicing great optimism going into the meeting, but they’re not throwing up their hands in defeat yet, either.

Some 20 people, including private citizens and representatives of the city, local arts groups and the Aspen Youth Council, along with Sam Houston, spokesman for the Isis owners, are scheduled to convene today at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

After the Isis closed in December, Mayor Rachel Richards voiced hope that the facility could be preserved as a theater and venue for local arts groups, possibly through some sort of public/private partnership.

But with the city suddenly facing a legal challenge to its real estate transfer tax, one of its key revenue streams, Richards was ruling out public involvement this week.

“Given the issues we have with the RETT, I don’t think there’s room for a municipal role in the Isis Theatre other than as a facilitator for potential user groups,” she said. Further, Richards said she fears the price is beyond what the groups could justify trying to raise privately.

“I think the price they want for the Isis is way out of line,” said Councilman Terry Paulson.

According to Houston, the $12 million figure is non-negotiable and is dependent on the partnership that owns the building being able to write off about $5 million from what would otherwise be a $17 million price tag.

The building’s assessed market value is $6.3 million, according to the county assessor’s office.

“Like everybody else, I think the price is pretty staggering,” said Pat Fallin, a member of the task force, president of the Aspen-Snowmass Council for the Arts and a Theatre in the Park board member. “Maybe we’ll find it’s just not doable,” she said.

“The enthusiasm has chilled, given what the asking price is,” agreed Laura Thielen, task force member and executive director of Aspen Filmfest.

Still, Fallin said she is going into the session with an open mind.

So is Councilman Tony Hershey. “If anybody has a good suggestion, I’m willing to listen,” he said.

Hershey is not, however, willing to spend city dollars on a cinema.

“I hope Sam Houston becomes more reasonable and I hope some private people come up with the money to buy it,” he said. “Other than that, the city doesn’t really have a role except as a facilitator. We’re not going to buy the Isis.”

One of the more intriguing ideas to come out of community discourse thus far, noted Paulson, is the suggestion that the city buy the Stage 3 Theatres, allowing the Stage 3 owners the opportunity to become a player in the purchase of the Isis. Public sentiment appears to favor the state-of-the-art Isis, with its stadium-style seating, as the better cinema facility.

The Stage 3 property would then, presumably, be converted to affordable housing.

“That’s the only thing that really makes sense to me,” Paulson said. “I don’t know what the Stage 3 guys would think, but to me, that was a great idea. I wish there was some way to pursue it.”

George Carisch, whose family owns the Stage 3 building, suspects the move isn’t economically feasible.

“I understand what everybody wants, but it’s just unrealistic,” he said. “I’d be happy to sit down with the people, but I think they have to look at the numbers.”

Carisch, however, reiterated his vow to keep Stage 3 open. With Carmike Cinemas in bankruptcy, Aspenites have expressed fears that the town could lose its remaining movie house, as well.

Carmike operates at Stage 3. If the company should fold, Carisch said he will find a new operator for the theater. “We will never close the theater,” he told a crowd at a town meeting last month.

Even if purchase of the Stage 3 was an option, Hershey doubts the city could buy it, especially given the precarious future of RETT revenue, which is a key source of money for Aspen’s housing program.

The city has enough big capital expenditures on its plate already, with the Iselin Park recreational facilities, the Truscott Place housing expansion and the planned Burlingame housing, Hershey said.

“With what would we buy the Stage 3 building – goodwill? That’s all we have.

“It’s an interesting idea,” he added.

The Isis closed when Resort Theaters of America pulled its operation out of Aspen, citing mounting financial losses. Resort Theaters had run the theater just shy of a year after a huge redevelopment project, financed by Houston and his partners, turned the old, one-screen theater into a five-plex.

While the community explores its options, Houston has said he will pursue plans to convert the main floor of the Isis into retail space in hopes of saving the three, smaller basement theaters.

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