Not saving the Isis Theatre would be ludicrous
It’s hard not to wince at the idea of the city government shelling out $8.75 million to purchase the Isis Theatre on Hopkins Avenue.The 92-year-old building is on the market, and a lot of people are worried it will go the way of the Mother Lode restaurant and be converted into still more high-end residential or boutique commercial property. That may be true. In the current market, residential real estate is where the money is. Look no further than the fact that virtually every commercial project that’s come before the City Council in the last year, mostly lodge redevelopments, has included a residential component. So what’s to stop the next owner of the Isis from converting more of its space from commercial to residential use? What’s to prevent a cherished movie house from becoming a collection of jewelry boutiques and overpriced clothing stores?Nothing, except perhaps public ownership.The Isis is an Aspen historical gem. Every generation since 1915 has known it as the town’s movie house. And with the recent closure and pending redevelopment of the Stage 3 theater building, the Isis is the last of its kind in town. Without the Isis, Aspen would become less interesting, less vibrant, less unique.Last week the city of Aspen publicly floated the idea of buying the Isis, minus the penthouse suite on the third floor. The proposed deal would require a $500,000 down payment to set the purchase in motion. Voters would have to approve the deal, which in its latest iteration carries a price of $8.75 million.City Council this week backed away from the deal. Council members were put off by the fact that the owners would give them only one week to inspect the building and the contract before the $500,000 becomes nonrefundable. As several residents told the council on Monday, the one-week deadline is ridiculous.At first glance, it may seem ludicrous to risk $500,000 in order to send some sort of Isis funding proposal to the voters. But perhaps it’s worth the risk. The Isis is Aspen’s last and best movie theater (the Wheeler Opera House shows movies, but not full time). It’s a critical venue for the annual Comedy Arts Festival. It’s the only place where, on any day of the week, we can go to relax, forget our worries and get lost in the silver screen.Without city involvement now, the Isis could disappear forever as a theater. In that context, it seems ludicrous not to risk the money.The city and the Isis owners need to negotiate a fair and viable deal, and get a funding proposal before the voters in the fall.
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