Justice Snow’s pays rent, lease in Aspen City Council’s hands
October 23, 2017
Members of Aspen City Council were to meet privately after their meeting Monday to discuss the future of the restaurant and bar Justice Snow's, but not before its owner and others urged them to renew the lease of the Wheeler Opera House tenant.
"We'll discuss this in executive session tonight and consider all the factors," Mayor Steve Skadron told Justice Snow's owner Michele Kiley after hearing her pitch to renew the lease.
Executive sessions are not open to the public. Those who participate in the meetings — from elected officials to city staff — are precluded from publicly disclosing what was discussed. Kiley did not attend the executive session.
Also unclear is whether the City Council will convene today for a scheduled 4 p.m. work session regarding Justice Snow's. Holding that work session hinges on the executive session's outcome.
Justice Snow's is a tenant of the city, which owns the Wheeler Opera House. The restaurant has been operating on a month-to-month lease since earlier this year, after previously inking a five-year lease with its landlord.
The public-comments portion of the meeting came against a tumultuous backdrop for Justice Snow's because of its falling behind on rent, while asking the city to lower its rent and allow it to close for two months during the fall offseason to retool its menu, business plan and operational strategy. The terms of its lease with the city allow it to close for two weeks during the autumn and spring offseasons.
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Council members had a series of questions for Kiley, but none were about her outstanding rent. On Friday, Kiley paid the city the $40,574 in delinquent rent that had accumulated over the months.
If anything, Kiley's satisfaction of the rent gives her the ability to negotiate a renewed lease with City Council, whose members have implored her to focus on being a "locally serving" establishment. Defining locally serving has been a matter of debate, but for Councilman Bert Myrin, Justice Snow's needs to be more accessible than it currently is. The restaurant has not been open since Oct. 13.
"All I know is when the doors are not opened, I don't feel like it's locally serving," Myrin said.
Yet Kiley countered over the past 5 1/2 years she has provided invaluable benefits to the community including poetry nights, storytelling sessions and free live music, among other offerings. Kiley also said she's no longer desirous of changing the terms of the lease.
"I'm fully aware that we need to move forward with the lease as it was undertaken," she said, adding that she could open by the third week of November. The delayed opening would be in part because Justice Snow's must hire a chef, front-of-the-house manager and general manager, she said, adding that this would not be the standard practice moving forward.
Poet Natalie Rae Fuller of Carbondale was among those who spoke favorably of Justice Snow's. Fuller has given oral presentations of her poetry at Justice Snow's in the past.
"It's been an incredible experience and opportunity," she said. "I've never had a chance before to share my art. And as an artist, I've been able to build my confidence in public speaking, which we all know is a terrible and wonderful thing."
Skadron did not tip his hand but commended Kiley nonetheless.
"Regardless of what one feels about the cost of a hamburger or how delicious or not your quinoa salad was, your commitment to creating a locally serving menu through the programming and the opportunity that's provided through performing arts … is unquestionable, and I just want to note that is a measure of success around the programming itself. I thought you did a tremendous job with that."