City of Aspen covers two-thirds of rent for its tenants

A woman runs across an empty street in downtown Aspen on Saturday, April 4, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The city of Aspen has given just over $100,000 in rent relief to its tenants as part of its multimillion-dollar COVID-19 recovery effort.

The city covered 67% of the rent for three months for 31 tenants in city-owned buildings.

The relief is similar to what the city offered Aspen businesses, except that instead of the one-third offering, the government covered two-thirds of the rent because it is acting as both landlord and assistance provider.

The 108 businesses that received as much as $14,000 to be applied toward three months of rent from the city had to have their landlords be willing to pay a third of the rent, with the tenant paying the remainder.

In an April 23 letter to tenants in seven buildings, City Manager Sara Ott informed them of the city’s relief.

“Thank you for your ingenuity and commitment to finding new ways to provide services and work through some of the difficult decisions you are making for your organization or business,” she wrote. “By way of this message, I want to let you know that the city will be reducing your rent for three months to 33% of your normal rental rate and 33% CAM/common area charge.”

The reduction applied to tenants in the Red Brick Center for the Arts, Red Brick Recreation Center, Yellow Brick Childcare Centers, Aspen Recreation Center, Aspen Golf Club, the Wheeler Opera House and the Old Power House.

There are 26 tenants in the Red Brick Center for the Arts, and combined they received just over $45,000 in rent relief.

Red Brick Center for the Arts Executive Director Sarah Roy said the city recognized that the nonprofits and artists who operate in the building have been in a taxing situation due to COVID-19.

“The City Manager’s Office was aware and was listening,” she said, adding that the feedback has been positive. “There was tons of gratitude and that felt really good.”

Kate Flynn, jewelry designer and owner of Mineral + Mine, is one of the 12 working artists who is appreciative of the rent relief, especially since the Red Brick has been closed after the COVID-19 outbreak in Aspen in March.

Not only is her studio a place where she does her craft, but she also sells her wares from there.

Her other sales outlets are between 10 and 20 boutique stores around the country, many of which have been closed due to COVID-19.

But the Aspen Saturday Farmers Market, which is limited to only produce and fresh food this summer due to social distancing constraints, is what Flynn was counting on as the majority of her income.

“That has caused me to think about how I do things,” she said. “If I can control my spending, then I’m OK this year.”

One of the expenses that she can’t control is rent, so getting relief from the city “has been a huge help.”

Roy understands the plight of the Red Brick artists, whose income solely relies on sales.

“That farmers market is a big deal for artists,” Roy said. “It’s an unfortunate tragedy of COVID-19.”

The nonprofits located within the Red Brick include some of the bigger organizations that put on large-scale events in the community that have been canceled this year due to COVID-19.

Aspen Film received a $1,128 a month discount; Jazz Aspen Snowmass received relief of $1,546 a month; and Theater Aspen got $1,867 a month, according to figures released by the city’s finance department.

Outside of the Red Brick, the largest rent discount went to Aspen Public House, located in the Wheeler Opera House, which remains closed.

Normal rent for the bar and restaurant is $10,632 a month. So at a 67% discount for three months, Bill Johnson, the owner of the establishment, received $21,265 in rent relief.

“When April 1 hit, I was hemorrhaging cash,” he said, adding that like most businesses in town he was enjoying a record-breaking season until public health orders shut him down in March. “We were up close to 20% over last year and we had a lot of momentum and it seemed like we were turning the corner with the restaurant.”

He said if it weren’t for the city’s assistance it would be “a struggle, for sure.”