Radio host airs plan for the Isis | AspenTimes.com
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Radio host airs plan for the Isis

Janet Urquhart

At least one film fan believes the public may be willing to shell out more than the cost of movie tickets and popcorn to save the Isis Theatre.

Local radio talk show host Andrew Kole said Tuesday he will put forward a ballot question for the May election that proposes a new sales tax or a property tax to raise money to buy the theater.

In a “worst-case scenario,” Kole said he figures it would cost $12 million to buy the Hopkins Avenue movie house. Ideally, he added, organizations that could use the five-screen theater and philanthropists will put forth money to whittle down what the city would actually have to borrow. “That number hopefully will come down,” he said.

Kole said he will push the Aspen City Council to put the referendum question on the ballot. The number of people that have already signed circulating “Save the Isis” petitions reflects support for such a ballot measure, he contends.

Aspen Filmfest has collected more than 1,200 signatures on the petitions, according to Laura Thielen, Filmfest executive director.

If Kole wants to put a question on the ballot through a citizen’s initiative, he must collect the signatures of 806 registered city voters – 15 percent of the number of votes cast in the last regular city election, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch.

“If they force me to go out and get 806 signatures, yes, I will go get them, but I don’t think we’ll need them,” Kole said.

But some City Council members are not ready to put the issue before the voters themselves, at least not yet.

Kole’s push is premature, said Mayor Rachel Richards.

“You don’t go into these things lightly,” she said. “You don’t get people to support taxes willy-nilly.”

Richards recalls the city purchase of the Red Brick Arts and Recreation Center in 1992. The city had a business plan in place, paying users for the building lined up and the ability to take on the debt. The proposal to use $3.6 million in tax-supported bonds to buy and renovate the former school passed by three votes.

Richards said she hopes community discussion on the fate of the Isis, to begin next Tuesday with a town meeting, produces a workable plan to preserve the theater. The Isis closed last month after Resort Theaters of America closed its operation here, citing mounting financial losses.

Since the shutdown, speculation about the conversion of the theater to high-end retail space has been rampant. Sam Houston, spokesman for the building’s owners, has said he hopes to find a new operator for the Isis, but warned that maintaining the entire building as a theater may not be feasible.

Richards said she does not rule out municipal involvement in future ownership of the Isis, but predicted it would require strong support from local organizations that want the venue preserved.

“To see the city participate in a capital drive through a vote – should the city put in X if the community puts in Y – is probably appropriate,” she said. “It would be great to get to the point where there’s a public/private ownership of the building.”

Ideally, the facility could be used for both local programs and the showing of commercial films, she said.

The city is currently researching the revenues that could come with various uses of the theater, according to Richards. The estimates will be available for Tuesday’s meeting.

City officials also hope to gauge public support for any government involvement in preservation of the theater at that meeting.

By Kole’s estimate – with the help, he said, of an outside numbers cruncher – a sales tax increase of .2 or .3 percent or a property tax hike of 1.8 mils would pay off a 30-year bond to buy the property for $12 million.

He’s not likely to find support on the City Council for proposing that kind of debt to the voters, though.

“We have so many other pressing issues, I don’t feel it would be responsible to bond for that,” said Councilman Tony Hershey.

“I don’t think you can take the favored cause of the moment and put every resource toward it,” Richards agreed.


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