Kole proposes sales tax to lease part of the Isis | AspenTimes.com

Kole proposes sales tax to lease part of the Isis

Janet Urquhart

Local TV talk show host Andrew Kole wants the city to seek voter approval of a 0.15 percent sales tax to lease three screens at the Isis Theater.

He has proposed a five-year lease with options to extend it at least 15 more years.

The Aspen City Council took no action on Kole’s ballot proposal Monday. Members agreed to discuss it again after a community task force charged with coming up with a plan to save the Isis takes a look at the idea Wednesday.

“If the people do not want to do it, then I will shut up and go away,” Kole said. “I think people should have an opportunity to vote on it.”

Under Kole’s plan, the sales tax would generate the ability to borrow money to lease part of the Isis from the building’s owners. The city could then subsidize a theater operation, he theorized.

Kole estimates the tax would provide $650,000 annually. After paying $50,000 in interest on the bonds and $50,000 to provide screens and sound equipment in the gutted theaters, the city would have $550,000 a year available to lease part of the Isis.

Kole has also crunched numbers for leasing three screens – a large screen on the main floor and two basement screens – for $30,000, $35,000 and $40,000 per month.

At $30,000 per month, the lease would cost the city $360,000 per year, leaving $190,000 in unspent tax revenue. If the screens were then leased to a commercial operator for $15,000 per month, that would generate $180,000 annually.

The income from the sublease, plus the unspent

$190,000, leaves the city with $370,000 at the end of a year and $1.85 million at the end of five years that can be reinvested in extension of the lease, Kole calculated.

“There’s a lot of potential to make this really work,” he said.

Kole said he has spoken to two potential operators about running the theater. The plan leaves the door open for Aspen’s Stage 3 Theatres, operated by Carmike Cinemas, to operate at the Isis instead, he noted.

Mayor Rachel Richards voiced some reservations about the proposal, since a straight lease doesn’t get the public any closer to owning the building in the future. It’s “just treading water,” she said.

Richards also pointed out that the owners of the Isis may come forward with their own plan to preserve some of the theaters and convert the rest of the building to another use. That would give the public a cinema without any taxpayer involvement, she said.

That scenario is less likely to involve one of the Isis’ large, main-floor screens, countered Kole.

The five-screen Isis Theater closed in December after Resort Theaters of America, which had leased the building, closed its Aspen operation, citing mounting financial losses.

Kole has taken a lead role in community discussions about how to preserve at least some of the building for continued use as a movie house.

The proposed sales tax would mean 15 cents on a $100 purchase. Consumers currently pay 8.6 percent in sales tax within the city, though a recently approved “bed tax” has upped the sales tax on lodging to 9.6 percent.

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Posted: Tuesday, March 6, 2001

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