Letter: Renew the Wheeler transfer tax

Renew the Wheeler transfer tax

As the former executive director of the Wheeler Opera House, I am writing to ask all Aspen voters to support the renewal of the real estate transfer tax this election season.

A lot of great points have been made about why the RETT is important to the continuance of the Wheeler as it’s been for three decades now, but as the person most intimately familiar with its budget that can speak freely during campaign season, I’d like to bring some other points to your attention.

The RETT allows the Wheeler to heavily subsidize rental of its facility, not only for arts and community events taking place on its stage, but also the restaurant space and art gallery at street level that bring such added vibrancy and rare affordability to Aspen’s downtown. But of course it’s what’s onstage that Aspenites see the most, and it’s vitally important to understand that much of the resident stage activity might disappear if the Wheeler is forced to command market rents.

Aspen Filmfest, the Aspen Community School and Country Day School productions, the free Community Events series — all of these and many more would be endangered if the Wheeler was forced to bring its artificially low rental rates up to the industry standard.

In fact, during the devastating national recession that hit Aspen and its arts scene so hard between 2009 and 2012, we purposely used our RETT support to underwrite entire rentals for many evergreen events that the Wheeler has been known for, with the underlying goal to ensure that not a single arts group was lost to the economic collapse. We also found ways outside of the Wheeler’s four walls to keep this policy going and see our unique arts infrastructure through perhaps the rockiest chapter of its history. And it worked, not only to keep programs going, but to give organizations time to reorganize and reprioritize internally and get back to reasonable sustainability. No doubt another economic challenge will come along that could wreck this delicate arts ecosystem. Wouldn’t it be better if the Wheeler was there, whole, and committed to seeing it through again?

Our board at the Wheeler often referred to the tax a new homeowner would pay into the RETT as the price of admission into what is arguably the nation’s most incredible arts and recreation playground. Few Aspenites could expect to pay into the RETT more than twice in a lifetime, with most only paying once. What a tremendous value — dozens of outlets for the arts throughout town, kept healthy in part through annual grants made with Wheeler RETT funds, and use of a state-of-the-art facility and its expert staff at very little cost. It’s a system without replication anywhere in the country, and the envy of many of us trying to keep our towns vital through traditional methods. You have it within your power to keep it going for another generation. Please vote to renew the RETT this November.

Gram Slaton

Macon, Georgia