Aspen’s arts, culture scene gets help from city’s relief fund

City of Aspen COVID-19 economic relief and recovery package by the numbers:

Here’s a look at how the city of Aspen has released funds from its $6 million spending authority in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis:

• $500,000 for financial assistance to Aspen residents pertaining to housing, utilities, food and childcare assistance, utilizing the Pitkin County needs assessment program already in place.

The city issued a $200,000 payment on April 23 to the Aspen Community Foundation. A local donor matched this payment for a total amount of $400,000. It was made available as a grant to Pitkin County for housing, food, utility or other financial assistance.

There is currently $300,000 remaining in city coffers committed to the Pitkin County financial assistance program. It is anticipated that these funds will be released to the county in the immediate future, and is projected that the dollars have already been consumed but have not yet been requested.

• $3 million for distribution through the Aspen Community Foundation; through nonprofits providing legal and mental health services; through loans and grants for small businesses; for purchases of personal protective equipment and for temporary staffing, or resource needs for the city administration to implement recovery and relief outcomes.

The city issued a $250,000 payment on May 8 to the Aspen Community Foundation for the Aspen to Parachute Relief Fund. These dollars were granted for distribution to Aspen Family Connections; Catholic Charities; Family Resource Center; Roaring Fork School District; Family Resource Center; Garfield School District 16; La Medichi, which is a project of Manaus; River Center of New Castle; Valley Settlement; Lift-Up; Food Bank of the Rockies, Western Slope; Aspen Hope Center; Aspen Strong; Mind Springs Health; Mental Health Fund at Aspen Community Foundation; and Alpine Legal Services.

• $1 million for the commercial rent assistance program in which local businesses can receive up to $14,000 toward three months of rent, based on meeting eligibility criteria.

• In addition to the commercial rent assistance grant program, the city administration has earmarked $600,000 for a revolving loan program for small businesses.

• $26,500 for personal protective equipment of 10,000 disposable masks, plus 2,000 buffs.

for distribution to the general public.

• Additional grant awards to local arts and culture nonprofits in the amount of $396,000 through the Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax Fund and the city general fund.

• $1.5 million for direct rental or mortgage assistance for individuals residing in deed-restricted, affordable housing units overseen by the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority.

The city is working directly with the county to help stretch its dollars by applying this funding to cover the financial assistance for shelter for individuals in ownership or rental situations provided they are in deed restricted APCHA qualified units. Pitkin County Human Services and the City’s Finance Department, with further assistance from APCHA, have been working collaboratively to identify all qualifying applicants. The county is preparing an invoice for records reviewed through May 4, which totals roughly $490,000. City funds will be released immediately to the county once that invoice is received.

• $1 million for child care support ranging from additional financial aid; ensuring childcare program staffing, safety and operations; and for any city administration resources needed to implement desired outcomes.

With the gradual reopening of child care programs pending, much of the intended funding for financial aid has yet to be released. As such, the bulk of this funding remains in city coffers until the time it is needed. The city administration has earmarked funding for other support, including an increased enrollment subsidy amount to help providers financially while they are restricted to smaller class sizes during this time ($75,000 estimate); reimbursement funding for additional cleaning services and supplies for these provider spaces ($35,000 estimate); office improvements at the Yellow Brick to meet social distancing requirements ($55,000 estimate); and possible increased infant capacity at CMC campus ($75,000 estimate).

Source: City of Aspen

Aspen City Council agreed Monday to earmarking as much as $400,000 for recovery grants to arts and cultural organizations amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Council members were unanimous in supporting the visual and performing arts organizations, recognizing that they are major attractants for visitors in a tourism-based economy.

“These are the drivers of our business and we need to support them,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said during a work session.

The grants, which will be as much as 10% of a nonprofit’s budget, will not exceed $30,000.

They’ll also be limited to organizations with a two-year minimum history in Aspen and have received a grant from the city’s Wheeler arts program, which amounts to 18 organizations.

The money will be used for general operating support, recouping losses due to canceled events and helping to pay for community activation events, whether they are virtual or live — as long as they comply with public health orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“I support community activation even if it’s one trumpeter on a stand playing some lonely blues at the end of the mall,” Richards said. “I think just finding little surprises as you go around would be very helpful.”

Those “activations” are designed to be tourism draws and part COVID-19 marketing plans in absentia of the big events that have been canceled.

The money will come from a $146,000 surplus in the Wheeler Opera House real estate transfer tax fund dedicated to grants for arts and culture organizations, as well as $250,000 from the city’s $6 million COVID-19 economic relief and recovery package.

The city just drew that fund down by another $1 million as more than 100 local businesses were approved last week for commercial rent assistance.

A five-member review committee comprised of citizens and city staff recommended that 108 businesses receive grants at varying amounts based on their landlords’ willingness to forgo some payment, as well as other eligibility requirements.

Twenty-seven of the businesses are receiving two-thirds of what was available to them, which reflects a compromise in the program’s requirements, according to city officials.

Those receiving partial payment, and some of the 26 applicants who were deemed ineligible to receive any money at all, are disputing the committee’s recommendation and are under additional review, said Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services, on Monday prior to the work session.

The identities of the committee members are being kept under wraps as city officials don’t want them to be deluged by business owners who are still seeking relief, according to Osur.

It was reported in April that the committee would be comprised of City Finance Director Pete Strecker, Mayor Torre, a community member at large, a banker, commercial lender or a financial expert, as well as a commercial real estate professional.

The committee’s recommendations amount to nearly $900,000 that the city is giving to eligible retailers and restaurateurs. Based on their eligibility, local businesses could get as much as $14,000.

The offering is equal to one-third the monthly rent of a business for as many as three months and is good from April to July.

The key eligibility requirement is that the tenant has a landlord who is willing to also pay a third of the rent, with the business paying the remainder.

“Most of the larger landlords participated and most of the smaller ones did,” Osur said. “I feel bad for the business whose landlords did not participate, but it was a rent relief program so we felt that the landlords have to participate equally with the city.”

Dozens of LLCs are listed as participating landlords, although most of them represent a handful of commercial property owners, including Mark Hunt, Stephen Marcus, Andy Hecht, Tony Mazza and Frank Woods, to name a few.

The majority of applicants — 37 of them — received between $10,000 and $14,000. It is almost evenly spread among others who are receiving somewhere between a very minimal amount to $9,999.

Partial payments mean applicants did not meet all of the program’s criteria, whether it be that business licenses were not current; utility bills were outstanding; the landlord didn’t agree to the full three months of discounted rent; or sales tax receipts for February were still due, according to city officials.

Those who were deemed ineligible include businesses whose landlords would not participate, or the applicants did not apply for other financial assistance through the Small Business Administration or the Payroll Protection Program, among other requirements in the city’s criteria.

Osur said he and special projects manager Ron LeBlanc are working on a $600,000 revolving loan program for small businesses in Aspen.

“We hope to be rolling out a loan program soon that would not require landlord participation so the businesses that could not participate in the rent program will have another opportunity for some help,” Osur said Monday.

Throwing small businesses a lifeline during the COVID-19 economic crisis is one element of the city’s relief and recovery package.

City Council approved the package in April, shortly after public health orders shut down Aspen’s economy to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The $6 million also is helping local residents with personal rent and mortgage relief, child care assistance, mental health services, aid to underrepresented populations and personal protective equipment, among other efforts.

City Councilman Ward Hauenstein said Monday that while he supports the municipal government’s contributions, at some point the city is going to tap out.

“We have to realize that the city cannot fund the survival of all the businesses in the community, nor can they fund the survival of all the arts and nonprofits,” he said. “So what we can do is put Band-Aids when maybe what we need is a splint or a full body cast, but we can and should do what we can while retaining our fiduciary responsibility.”


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