Wheeler RETT question needs some tweaking

Although I am a member of the Wheeler Opera House board, I am expressing my personal opinion.

This is in response to the ballot proposal to change the Wheeler Opera House real estate transfer tax endowment (RETT). I have a high level of discomfort leaving the decision of “How much of the RETT should be arts grants?” in the hands of Aspen City Council, especially when the words “and an endowment fund in perpetuity” (for the Wheeler, performing arts and arts programming) are to be stricken from the ordinance.

So what was the original 1979 intent of specifying the arts grants be “no more” than $100,000? Stay with me; this is going to involve numbers.

The RETT gave one half of 1% of all real estate sales inside the city limits of Aspen passed in May of 1979 — with 54% of the vote. You need 60% to change it.

Pitkin County real estate sales records are available online. It’s a bit of a slog since I needed to separate out what property was within the Aspen city limits from county sales. Luckily, most of the condominium names have not changed since 1979.

I can definitely say that there were no less than $80 million in real estate sales inside the city limits and probably $100 million. Those are the numbers everyone would have been looking at in 1979. One half of 1% of $100 million is $500,000, which makes that magic $100,000 number 20% of the expected yearly RETT, leaving the remaining $400,000 a year for the capital campaign for the renovation. Six years of investment at that level would have raised the $2.4 million needed to renovate the Wheeler and still give $100,000 a year in arts grants.

Twenty percent of the 2021 RETT would have been $1.8 million.

I could fully support increasing the arts grants to 20% of the RETT. Change the language to “arts grants not to exceed 20% of the funds collected by the RETT in a given year.” Leave the language “an endowment fund in perpetuity” for the Wheeler, the performing arts and arts programming.

Update and preserve the original intent. The public can show up and comment Tuesday.

Ziska Childs


Letter to the Editor