Restrictions lifted on Aspen’s Wheeler endowment |

Restrictions lifted on Aspen’s Wheeler endowment

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council voted Monday to lift restrictions on an estimated $28 million endowment for the Wheeler Opera House.

The council voted 4-1, with Councilman Steve Skadron dissenting, to lift restrictions put into place in 2002 that essentially created an endowment for the Wheeler.

The purpose of the endowment was to secure long-term financing for the Wheeler’s operations, capital improvements and grants to local nonprofit arts organizations.

But the language was so restrictive that it didn’t allow either principal or interest earned to be accessed for any purpose, including the completion of a renovation master plan approved by voters in 1979, according to Wheeler executive director Gram Slaton.

The Wheeler is funded by the Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), which is half of 1 percent on the sale of all properties in the city. The tax is set to expire in 2019.

When the RETT began collecting more money than needed for operations and maintenance, the Wheeler board of directors requested in 2002 that the City Council create an endowment fund.

The council’s action on Monday frees up the money so that it can be used for any purposes consistent with the 1979 ordinance.

Slaton said the money could be to purchase a piece of property, revive the expansion plans for the Wheeler or improving the existing building, including two leased spaces that currently house Bentley’s and Valley Fine Arts.

“All of those would require probably tapping into those funds,” Slaton told the council.

Because of lack of support by council members, a $30 million, 265-seat theater envisioned on the empty lot next to the Wheeler has been discontinued.

The council approved on Monday that the land-use application be suspended for one year.

Council members said any expenditure of funds for that purpose will be voted on by the electorate in the future. The council also will approve in future public hearings any expenditure of the Wheeler that’s not part of ongoing operations or maintenance.

Skadron voted against the change because he said he didn’t feel it was exactly what the 1979 ordinance calls for.

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