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Rent relief for Aspen businesses to roll out at end of week

Aspen City Hall.
Aspen Times file photo

City of Aspen officials are gearing up for what they expect to be a deluge of applications from local businesses looking for rent relief as the $1 million program rolls out in the coming days.

“We are targeting our portal to be online by Friday,” City Manager Sara Ott said Wednesday.

Those who want to participate in the city’s small-business rent relief program will be asked to provide sensitive, private information about their businesses, so the city’s IT department is working diligently to make the portal secure and robust enough to handle heavy activity.

Ott is currently talking to individuals in the community who may serve on the grant committee that will review the applications, based on eligibility criteria.

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She said she hopes to have that committee in place by next week.

Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking and downtown services who is part of a team that crafted the program, said his email has been flooded by business owners prior to and since Aspen City Council’s approval this past Monday.

The majority of business owners are telling Osur that the relief program, which will grant as much as $14,000 in rent over three months, will help them survive through the COVID-19 economic and health crisis.

Osur said there are some who say that amount is a small dent in what they pay in rent, the average of which is around $22,000 a month.

But for those whose rents are between $15,000 and $18,000 a month, “we can really help the small businesses,” he said.

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.

Businesses eligible for rent relief must have a landlord who is willing to also pay a third of the rent, with the tenant paying the remainder.

Another eligibility requirement is that the business has to have applied for state or federal assistance, like an SBA loan or the Payroll Protection Plan.

“That shows you care enough about your business and want to make it work,” Osur said.

Other eligibility requirements include being closed, or have limited services, because of the local public health order; have 35 or fewer full-time employees; be located within city limits and was open March 1; and have been in business since the beginning of the 2019-20 winter season. Start-up businesses will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Formula businesses, which are defined in the city’s land-use code, as well those that are office in nature — such as law firms, property management or real estate professionals — do not qualify for rent relief.

Those interested can go to http://www.cityofaspen.com/covidbusiness on Friday for more details and a link to the application.

The program, which is being funded by borrowed money from the Wheeler Opera House fund, is designed to help Aspen businesses that contribute to the municipal government’s sales tax receipts.

Other eligibility requirements include providing income taxes, and other associated documentation that will be spelled out on the city’s website.

The review committee that Ott is convening will 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.

Ott said she is getting a lot of interest from people to volunteer, which is a testament to the cohesiveness of the community.

The committee will use eligibility criteria in making award decisions, and will consider fully completed applications in the order they are submitted until the award period ends or funding runs out.

Osur said the program’s rollout is days away to help businesses immediately.

“This is designed to take some pressure off of them now,” he said. “I’m hoping next week we are giving checks to landlords.”

He acknowledged when presenting the program to council Monday that the program could be counter-productive to the impact that would otherwise likely happen around commercial rental rates and landlords having to lower them as a result of empty storefronts.

Ott said council members have acknowledged that no plan is perfect but rather this is an immediate response to the crisis.

“People are getting through April,” Ott said. “We want to make sure they get through May.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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