Lease deal for Isis is expected soon | AspenTimes.com
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Lease deal for Isis is expected soon

Janet Urquhart

Aspen officials hope to nail down the specifics of a lease for the Isis Theatre, including a purchase option for the building, within a week.

Representatives of the city and the theater’s owners, Isis LLC, have had one meeting to discuss terms of a lease and will likely reconvene soon, according to City Manager Steve Barwick. “We’ve thrown some numbers back and forth,” he said.

City Council candidate Andrew Kole, who came up with the plan for a sales tax that would fund the leasing of the cinema, also sat in on the initial talks.

The proposed 0.20 sales tax will go to voters on May 8. The city wants details of the lease arrangement in place before the election, Barwick said.

“We’re trying to strike a lease so that people, when they vote on it, will know what they’re voting on,” he said.

Barwick said he is anticipating a proposal from Isis LLC that includes lease terms and a purchase option for a price that city officials hope will be less than the $12 million previously discussed.

“I think that would give a great deal more comfort to the voters if they knew what the price was going to be, but we haven’t seen it yet,” Barwick said yesterday.

The tax, if it is approved, is expected to generate up to $880,000 annually to lease the five-screen theater on Hopkins Avenue, which closed last December. Collection of the tax is contingent on the city negotiating at least a four-year lease for the facility with the building’s owners, with extensions of at least 16 years.

Barwick said he is optimistic the parties can come up with a lease within the terms established by the ballot question.

The city has also talked with potential operators to get a rough idea of the rent it could charge a company to run the movie house, he said. Presumably, the city would sublease the building to a theater operator, using the tax proceeds to subsidize the rent to make the business financially viable for an operator.

Resort Theaters of America, which had leased the Isis, pulled out after nearly a year of operation, citing mounting financial losses. RTA was facing rent costs of about $60,000 per month for the building.

The sublease would partially offset the city’s costs to lease the building, Barwick said.

“You’re still going to lose money – a lot of money – but you’re still going to cover a portion of that with some operating profit,” he said.

Kole, meanwhile, is hoping to facilitate a deal with George Carisch, owner of Aspen’s Stage 3 Theatres. Carisch leases his theater to Carmike Cinemas, which operates the business.

“My objective is not to drive George out of business,” Kole said.

Instead, he hopes Carisch can become a partner in the Isis and that the five state-of-the-art screens at the Isis will serve as the movie theater in Aspen. The community probably cannot support the Isis, plus three screens at the Stage 3, Kole conceded.

Carisch’s Main Street theater property could be redeveloped with affordable housing, Kole theorized. The parcel has also been identified as a potential future site for a new fire station.

“There’s a deal there. The question is, what that deal is,” Kole said. “One of the reasons to put this on the ballot was to give us time to make a deal.”

In the event neither the community nor some other party steps forward to preserve the Isis as a theater, owners of the building have indicated they will pursue redevelopment of at least part of the building for some other commercial use.

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