Aspen Film Gets City Council Approval to Buy Isis Theater

A cyclist rides past the Isis Theater Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in downtown Aspen. It was announced Tuesday that Aspen Film will take over ownership of the theater in October.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

FilmFest kicked off on Tuesday and, much to the delight of its organizer, Aspen Film, there was no drama with the Aspen City Council as an audience.

The board, in a 5-0 vote, approved Aspen’s Film’s purchase of the Isis Theater, with a closing date of October 14. Aspen Film will acquire the cinema portion of the Isis Theater building — which includes four screens between the ground floor and underground spaces, two concession stands and restrooms — by paying off its $2.1 million debt to the city .

“We aim to retain it as a community asset, and many of the plans we are considering and proposing will retain it as a community asset, more so than it currently is,” Susan Wrubel said. , Aspen. Executive director and creative director of the film.

The board also agreed to Aspen Film’s request to change the building’s covenants to allow the organization to have in-house naming rights; the name “Isis Building” on the outside cannot be changed.

“Regarding the restrictive covenant, we ask to be removed,” Wrubel said. “It gives us more flexibility in what we’re looking to do in the interior space, and we’re getting into a fundraising campaign, management changes and a purchase with a financial charge, and that’s going to give us a lot of latitude with our goals for the future, which I think are very much aligned with what this board is looking for.

The property comes with a deed restriction allowing only theater operations, but the property can change use with City Council approval, according to city attorney Jim True.

A tree frames the Isis Theater Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in downtown Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Aspen Film has been a tenant of the Isis building since 2007 and is using the facilities for its own programming this week with FilmFest screenings. He had also sublet the space to the Metropolitan Theaters in Los Angeles since 2007, an agreement which is no longer in effect.

In a related announcement released Tuesday, Aspen Film said it has retained Bow Tie Cinemas to handle the day-to-day operations of the Isis Theater. Bow Tie Cinemas also runs Movieland 7 in Basalt. The family business began in New York in 1900. The Moss family also owned other properties and businesses in the Aspen area.

Aspen Film’s ownership of the Isis will also end a partnership it had with the city since 2007. The partnership included a separate legal entity called the Aspen Public Facilities Authority comprising members of the city council, the clerk and the director financial; and a second tenant called Aspen Retail Group.

The Aspen Public Facilities Authority acted as landlord, while the city “leveraged its credit to borrow approximately $8.5 million and then structured leases with these two partners as tenants. to operate these facilities,” Pete Strecker, the city’s chief financial officer, told council.

The monthly rent from Aspen Film and Aspen Retail went towards the balance of certificates of participation, or COP.

“These leases also included the right for either party to purchase their co-ownership share of the property if they could repay the apportioned debt service related to their units,” a note to the newspaper said. city ​​staff city council.

The partnership was created out of fear that the Isis Theater would close. The building was later remodeled to preserve four of the five theaters, which Aspen Film in turn leased from the city.

The fifth theater, along with part of the lobby space, has been converted into retail space. Along with two worker housing units upstairs, the space was acquired from Aspen Retail Group for $13 million from Aspen real estate developer Mark Hunt in October 2019.

“The rents were set to basically cover debt service, so essentially they would continue to use the space for the duration of their leases, and they would pay that debt service over time,” the official said. city ​​chief financial officer, Pete Strecker. members. “But, the option to buy was included in those leases, and we already had one of those two partners who bought their part of the building in 2019; so tonight we’re really talking about the second partners, Aspen Film, coming in and basically buying their share of the space.

The Isis Theater seen Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in downtown Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Pandemic public health orders crippled theater operators, including Metropolitan, who fell behind on rent, leaving the tab with Aspen Film. To help, the city deferred Aspen Film’s rent payments and refinanced ongoing debt service. This made the city the owner of the Isis Theater.

“It was a tough time,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said. “We didn’t say the word ‘pandemic’ in that meeting…but you persevered during the pandemic, and it was very difficult when theaters across the country were hurting, when operators were hurting. From where you brought it a few years ago to where it is now, congratulations.

The city is contractually obligated to pay the closing costs of the sale, which Strecker estimates at $5,000.

“It feels more like a celebration than anything,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said. “It’s been a struggle.”

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