Behind on rent, Isis Theatre plans Aug. 28 reopening in Aspen

The Isis Theatre.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

The operators of the Isis Theatre announced Thursday plans to reopen the cinema Aug. 28, which means they can start selling tickets and concessions to crawl out of debt to their landlord.

Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Theatres Corp. said in a news release that Isis Theatre and four of its other 16 cinemas — two others in Colorado, one in Utah, one in Idaho — will open this month after being closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Also Thursday, New York-based Bow Tie Cinemas announced the projectors would resume rolling Friday at Movieland 7 in El Jebel. Movieland shut down for three months because of the pandemic, reopening in mid-June with limited seating and other public-health order restrictions. The seven-screen cinema, the largest in the Roaring Fork Valley, closed again in mid-July for undisclosed reasons.

Metropolitan Theatres’ announcement came after Aspen City Council on Tuesday gave more directive to its staff regarding the future of the theater.

The city owns the theater portion of the Isis building on Hopkins Avenue. It also has a partnership with Aspen Film dating to 2006; under that arrangement, the nonprofit acts as the landlord and collects monthly lease payments from Metropolitan Theaters. Aspen Film also has used the four-screen space, which was named after the Egyptian goddess, to produce short- and full-length film festivals.

At a July 14 meeting, council allowed Aspen Film to extend Metropolitan’s lease, which had expired in June, through January. The revised lease forgave Metropolitan’s rent due for April, and it deferred May and June rent over the next six months. Metropolitan’s lease requires it pay $15,500 a month in rent.

The situation has put the city in the position of figuring out how to move forward. That’s because it has used the rent Aspen Film pays it to whittle away at its semi-annual debt service on the building, which now stands at $2.03 million. The next payment, for $129,488, is due Sept. 1.

With the council’s blessing at the July 14 meeting, the city had hoped to refinance that debt and by doing so, expected to push back the September due date.

Banks, however, have been wary because of the pandemic, finance director Pete Strecker told council Tuesday.

With the September payment looming, council agreed to use the $49,007.94 it has received so far this year from Aspen Film, and take another $80,480.06 from the city’s general fund.

Aspen Film will have two years to pay back the city. City Council members said realize they are taking a calculated risk.

“We can say it’s all going to Aspen Film, but actually $80,000 is going to debt payment on an asset, not an operating expense,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said. “It’s an asset that we don’t want to lose.”

The city relies on Aspen Film’s rent to pay back the 30-year certificates of participation, or COPs, to investors who backed the Aspen government’s $7.5 million acquisition of the property in 2008. The partnership was created with the intention of preserving the theater.

The Isis Theatre, meanwhile, will have an entirely new approach to its operations when it reopens.

Moviegoers can expect the following, based on the announcement from Metropolitan Theatres:

• Guests will be encouraged to buy tickets online through the website for contactless payment or on the new Metropolitan Theatres app, available at App Store and Google Play. Ticket bar codes may be scanned at the theatre.

• Safety barriers have been installed at the box offices and concession stands.

• Social distancing decals will be placed in high traffic areas (concessions stand, box office, and restrooms) to ensure a 6-foot distance between guests.

• Reduced capacities in each auditorium with 6-foot separation between each guest/party. For reserved recliner auditoriums, there will be a minimum of two empty seats between parties. In traditional auditoriums, there will be three empty seats between parties and every other row will remain empty.

• High-contact surfaces will be disinfected frequently. This includes restrooms (sinks faucets, handles, etc.), auditoriums, entrances/exits, railings, counters, podiums and kiosks. The box office will be sanitized after every transaction. Seats in the auditoriums will be disinfected between every show (seats, armrests and tray tables).

• Face masks are required are to be worn at all times in the theater except when eating while seated in the auditoriums.

• Guests are requested to remain home if sick or have been in close contact with anyone experiencing signs of sickness.

• Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the theater.

• Drinking fountains will be closed.

“We are excited to welcome our guests back to the movies,” said David Corwin, president of Metropolitan Theatres, in a statement. “We have missed the daily contact with them, but have been busy formulating reopening plans with enhanced safety procedures so we may open responsibly. Our guests’ health and safety remain our top priority, and we appreciate their trust and confidence in us as we reopen our theaters.”