Council approves Aspen Film’s purchase of Isis space

September 28, 2022

Council approves Aspen Film’s purchase of Isis space

The Aspen City Council on Tuesday enthusiastically approved a purchase contract that allows Aspen Film to acquire its condominiumized units within the Isis Theatre building without the debt that is currently tied to the property.

With the approval, the council also approved the termination of the existing debt, and included an amendment to the property’s restrictive covenants removing the need for council oversight on naming rights within the interior of the space. The covenant that requires the space to only be used for operating movie theaters also will remain in place, according to a memorandum from city staff.

“The only option really before council after that is that Aspen Film is requesting for the covenant to be removed around internal naming rights,” Finance Director Pete Strecker said. “Essentially, council typically does not really dictate what happens on the inside of a space otherwise, so from staff’s perspective, that really doesn’t seem to be a hang-up item, but that is something that’s being requested and the council can certainly take action one way or the other.”

The city partnered with Aspen Film and the Isis Retail Group in 2007 to preserve the Isis building, which came with the issuance of $8.4 million in debt, and the right for either party to purchase its condominiumized share of the property if it could retire the apportioned debt service tied to their units. At this point, Aspen Film will retire its $2.1 million debt on the space — the amount left over from the Isis Retail Group’s share which it retired in 2019 — and will gain ownership of its units.

In 2020, the council supported efforts to improve cashflow for Aspen Film and its sublease with the theater operator during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite those efforts, the operator remained challenged by the pandemic’s impacts, according to the memo, so the council supported a revised lease agreement to further support the theater remaining in operation.

The current lease says Aspen Film can purchase its space for $10, or exercise an earlier purchase opportunity with the purchase price equal to the remaining debt at the time plus any interest. Aspen Film opted for the latter.

“Since the option to take over the Isis Theatre became available to us, Aspen Film has been working toward taking ownership of this beloved space,” Aspen Film Executive and Artistic Director Susan Wrubel said in a news release. “We are fortunate to be in a position to make the acquisition of the theater a reality, and look forward to creating more of a gathering place to deepen community engagement, and share cinematic experiences and thoughtful dialogue.”

Wrubel also told council members that she was appreciative of their support and the city’s support, and added that removal of the covenant on naming rights will provide Aspen Film with more flexibility to improve what they can do within the space. Aspen Film also intends to keep the Isis community-focused and in line with its values and the city’s values.

“We have a goal of keeping it as a community asset and a lot of the plans that we are looking into and putting forth will keep this very much as a community asset, more so than it is now,” Wrubel said. “We are planning to make it more ADA-accessible, we are trying to make it as green as possible, and just really follow all of the guidelines that are important to the city and important to my organization as well.”

In addition to taking ownership of the theater, Aspen Film has engaged Bow Tie Management — a professional movie theater operations company in five states that also manages the Movieland theater in El Jebel — to handle management and day-to-today operations of the four-screen complex, according to the release.

Council members supported the request in a unanimous vote, including the removal of the covenant on naming rights, which was approved by resolution. The council also congratulated Aspen Film on the ability to carry their operations in the Isis through the pandemic.

“You persevered during the pandemic — that was very tough, when theaters across the country were suffering, when operators were suffering, and we had some faith in your ability to go forward,” said Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “When I saw this in our packet coming forward, I was astounded at where you’ve taken it from a few years ago to where it is now.”

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