Isis Theatre’s next sequel signed off by Aspen City Council |

Isis Theatre’s next sequel signed off by Aspen City Council

Renegotiated sublease agreement with Aspen Film gives the nonprofit low rent payments as film industry remains in limbo

Visitors walk past the Isis Movie Theatre in downtown Aspen in April 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Aspen City Council on Tuesday approved a new sublease with Aspen Film that’s intended to keep the lights on in the town’s only movie theater, the Isis.

The city has owned the five-screen theater on Hopkins Avenue since last year when it refinanced $2.1 million in debt on the building, which the nonprofit, Aspen Film, is responsible for as the municipal government’s sublessee.

But with financial challenges for the past 18 months due to COVID-19 and a changing landscape in the theater industry, Aspen Film and its tenant, Los-Angeles based Metropolitan Theatres, have been unable to make rent payments and cover other associated costs for the Isis.

That’s because revenues from ticket sales have not covered the cost of leasing and operating the theater, according to Scott Miller, the city’s public works director.

Per council direction, the city, as Aspen Film’s landlord, has not actively pursued collecting on past due rent and HOA payments, which has been covered by the municipal government’s general fund since April 2020.

Aspen Film has recently paid roughly $300,000 in back rent, HOA dues and capital reserves from April 2020 through this past August.

The renegotiated sublease agreement between the city and Aspen Film puts the nonprofit’s new base rent retroactive from this past September through August 2022 at $6,902.07 a month, which is one-twelfth of the annual debt service of $82,824.80.

Aspen Film also will pay $150 monthly toward the capital reserve fund dedicated to the building.

The new rent amount will cover minimal expenses while allowing the theater to recover from the economic challenges of 2020 and 2021, and build up to a new, more profitable post-pandemic business model, according to Miller.

“We negotiated a lease that covers our expense for the building,” he said prior to council’s Tuesday regular meeting, noting that elected officials and the community have expressed their strong desire to keep the Isis a movie theater. “We understand the hell the theater industry has gone through in the last two years, so if Aspen Film can cover the low debt, it gives us and them a breather.”

Miller also noted the sublease amendment allows the deferral of certain amounts due in the upcoming year to be treated as a loan, and eventually Aspen Film will have to pay the city the roughly $2 million in financing that was done through certificates of participation.

Tuesday’s renegotiated sublease agreement updates a deal designed to save the Isis as a theater, brokered in 2007 among Aspen Film, the city and an out-of-state retail group.

That deal offered a path to ownership of the theater for Aspen Film, which the nonprofit is still pursuing through a yet-to-be-determined financing source, according to its executive director, Susan Wrubel.

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Theatres has renewed its lease through August 2022.

Earlier this year, Metropolitan, still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, declined to renew its lease after June but agreed to pay one-third of its prior rent through August.

Wrubel said she is pleased to have the continued commitment from Metropolitan, which has operated the Isis for more than 14 years, as well as the city’s.

“Metropolitan is in and paying rent and we are using that money to pay the city,” she said. “It’s exactly the direction that we wanted.”

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