Aspen City Council wants input on $5M partnership with Jazz Aspen Snowmass

The location of a downtown building that the city of Aspen may partner on with Jazz Aspen Snowmass for a performance center is expected to be revealed next week.

Jim Horowitz, president and CEO of JAS, told the Wheeler board Wednesday that an offer was made and the details are being worked out.

“We’ve made a deal and now the lawyers have it,” Horowitz said.

He approached city officials earlier this month, asking if they were interested in entering into a public-private partnership. Under the proposal, the city would take $4 million from the Wheeler Opera House Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) to help pay for the building, which is purported to have a fair-market value of $15 million.

Another $1 million would be used to help subsidize community events at the venue for 10 years.

Aspen residents likely will vote on whether to earmark the $5 million in RETT funds in November.

Horowitz described the venue — which would be used for live music and education programming, along with other arts and cultural events — as a square, one-level space with high ceilings that has access to food and beverage operations. It can accommodate 125 to 150 tables, or 200 chairs.

“Our new space is pretty close to perfect,” he told the Wheeler board, adding that it would be a turnkey product for the city.

Aspen City Council is asking the board to make a recommendation on whether dedicated RETT funds should be used for such a partnership.

Horowitz answered several questions from board members Wednesday. A subcommittee of four board members was formed and it will spend the next month conducting public outreach and surveying area nonprofits to determine if there is a need for additional performance space.

Meanwhile, council last month asked that an assessment be done on what kind of programming is needed for a potential annex facility next to the Wheeler on an open space parcel that the city owns.

Assistant City Manager Sara Ott said a request of $60,000 for the 2019 budget will be submitted to hire a consultant to do the analysis.

The JAS Center will be included in that study if voters approve the public-private partnership this fall, Ott said.

If the city and JAS partner, the hope is that when the contractual obligations end in 10 years, there is better clarity on what to do with the Wheeler annex parcel, Ott added.

Horowitz pointed out that JAS would be able to get a performance center ready for public use by the end of 2020, which allows more time to think through the future of the Wheeler parcel.

“We know the annex is still a big question,” he said.

JAS Vice President Andrea Beard concurred and said a public-private partnership will reveal what the real need is in the community for performance space.

“It’s almost a breather for this,” she said.

The city’s return on investment for partnering with JAS will be having the space for a minimum of 70 nights a year — Mondays and Tuesdays — during high season, and additional days beyond that.

It would be used for performances by area nonprofits or other groups, as well as community events, and meeting and rehearsal space.

The city also would get 30 percent equity for its $4 million investment in the commercial building.

The goal for JAS is to have a permanent home to continue its mission and secure its future, Horowitz said.

“We feel pretty good about investing in ourselves,” he said.

JAS’s offices are at the Red Brick Center for the Arts and it uses the basement of the Little Nell Hotel for 36 jazz performances throughout the year.

Michael Goldberg, who owns the Belly Up nightclub and partners with the Wheeler and JAS on events throughout the year, questioned committing tax dollars to a venture that competes with private business.

He told the Wheeler board that he gives up his venue at least 20 nights a year for community-oriented events at discounted rates.

“But I don’t get a subsidy,” Goldberg said. “Fundamentally, my issue with this is the issue of a subsidy and the issue of public-private partnerships competing against a private entity.”

Horowitz pointed out to the board prior to Goldberg’s comments that he doesn’t see the JAS Center competing with what the Belly Up books, or the Wheeler.

“We’re here to complement,” he said.