Time running out to Save the Isis | AspenTimes.com

Time running out to Save the Isis

Janet Urquhart

Time is running out for the Save the Isis campaign.

A month or more has passed since Sam Houston, spokesman for the theater’s owners, gave the community three months to come up with a plan to acquire the five-screen cinema. And the deadline to finalize a ballot question regarding the Isis for a city vote this spring is March 12.

The latter deadline caught Andrew Kole, who has spearheaded the ballot push, by surprise Monday. He blamed the city for failing to make that deadline clear.

Nonetheless, yesterday’s sparsely attended meeting, involving just three citizens who signed up to try to help save the theater, along with Houston and Isis partner Frank Goldsmith, produced some progress.

Houston agreed to attempt to get an answer from the full partnership on a lease price for the theater. Kole, a local television talk show host who has been active in the Save the Isis campaign, hopes voters will be offered a proposal to approve a tax increase to cover the cost of leasing part of the Isis.

He is also hoping the City Council will agree to put the question on the ballot.

Houston has said the theater’s owners are willing to sell the Isis to the community for $12 million, but the option of leasing one of the large theater screens on the main floor, plus two or three of the basement theaters, garnered most of the focus yesterday.

Goldsmith suggested the lease price would be affected by what exactions the city would demand of the Isis owners to convert the rest of the building to some other use.

“I think if we were going to do that, I think Frank is right, for that to happen, there would have to be major concessions on the part of the city for that to work,” Houston said.

The city could demand additional exactions, in the form of affordable housing and parking, for example, before it would approve conversion of the Hopkins Avenue theater to some other use.

The Isis closed in December when Resort Theaters of America pulled its operation from the building, citing mounting financial losses.

Houston said he has contacted other potential theater operators, but they have not responded.

“We’re entertaining all offers and all possibilities, whether from theaters or retailers or restaurants,” he said.

If the city leases part of the theater, it could sublease the screens to an operator, Kole said. The taxpayers could end up subsidizing the operation in order to preserve the theater, he conceded.

“The question is, does the community . want to commit `X’ number of dollars to keep some part of it a theater?” Kole said. “The question is, do you want to keep a big screen in town?”

He likened a community investment in the Isis to public ownership of a municipal swimming pool. “I’ve got part of a pool I don’t particularly ever use,” Kole said.

After Houston and Goldsmith had departed, the informal discussion took a new tack.

The cheaper solution, suggested George Carisch, owner of the Stage 3 Theatres building on Main Street, is to build two large-screen theaters atop Stage 3.

If no theater operation remains at the Isis, Carisch said expansion of the Stage 3 is a move he’d consider.

“I think that’s the best solution,” he said.

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Posted: Tuesday, February 27, 2001

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