Wheeler money vote campaign being formed


A campaign is brewing to promote the passage of Voting Measure 2A, which asks Aspen voters to reallocate a portion of the property transfer tax revenue spent on the historic Wheeler Opera House.

A committee of questions called “Aspen for Arts, Arts for Aspen” was filed with the city clerk’s office by Cristal Logan, chairman of the board of directors of the chamber of commerce that represents local arts and culture organizations.

Logan said last week the committee will fundraise and campaign on behalf of local arts and culture groups that may benefit from Wheeler’s embezzlement, as the issue calls for removing an annual cap of $ 100,000 in grants.

“We’re all together as a team and working 1000% to get this done,” said Logan, Aspen vice president of community programs and engagement at the Aspen Institute.

Aspen voters in 1979 initially approved and then reaffirmed in 2016 with the extension of the tax to 2039 that revenues from the Wheeler Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) go to the opera, as well as the annual $ 100,000 to local cultural organizations.

A divided Aspen city council voted 3-2 on September 3 to send the question to voters, 60% of whom must approve passage, based on the language of the 1979 ballot.

The Wheeler RETT fund currently has $ 40 million and board members agree that more funding should go to a broader cultural, visual and performing arts base.

The issue of this fall’s poll also calls for part of the RETT to be reallocated to the Red Brick Center for the Arts, which is currently supported by the city’s general fund and asset management fund.

Eliminating the General Fund as a source of support for the Red Brick would allow the city to use it to pay off its remaining $ 2.1 million in outstanding Certificates of Participation for the Isis Theater, which is in financial difficulty due changes in the film industry and COVID -19.

How much to divert, how much to leave for the historic opera house and where the future income will go will be decided in the future by the council.

Rachel Richards and Ward Hauenstein, the two minority council members in the September 3 vote, said details are not ripe enough to be sent to voters.

Richards said a city-hired survey consultant determined the issue was likely to fail at the polls, and Hauentein said he wanted to ensure adequate funding was secured for other urgent needs. such as affordable child care and mental health.

Council members John Doyle and Skippy Mesirow, along with Mayor Torre, said the issue, debated in the community for years, should be decided by voters now.

They have a short window to convince an electorate who is historically equally divided on issues.

Election day is November 2, although the ballots will be mailed out on October 8 in the hopes that they will land in voters’ mailboxes in the days that follow.

Doyle, Mesirow and Torre said they plan to promote their support for the issue through letters to the editor, guest comments, on their social media platforms, as well as helping the Aspen for Arts campaign. , Arts for Aspen.

Logan said a website, aspenforarts.org, is being built where information about the campaign can be found and the committee will send letters to registered voters.

She said supporters will be making phone calls to residents and that the committee is planning to hold virtual forums to educate voters on the issue.

The executive directors and presidents and CEOs of organizations such as Music Associates of Aspen, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Theater Aspen and Aspen Film have publicly supported the ballot issue.

Logan said these organizations, along with other local arts and culture nonprofits, have not seen an increase in grant funding in years, but their costs have risen and their operations are still under control. shock of economic losses from COVID-19.

If more funding comes from RETT revenues, more programming is possible.

“We are committed to our community and year round programming for locals,” she said.

It is not yet clear whether there will be organized opposition to the 2A ballot issue, but there is a group that is disappointed with the council’s decision and is thinking about it.

They are part of a group of citizens who in July tried to put in place a citizens’ referendum on this fall’s ballot that would have removed the $ 100,000 cap and approved a $ 10 million grant to the school district. Aspen to modernize and renovate the 550-bed Aspen district. Theater and black box space with 150 seats.

The group failed to secure the required number of signatures from Aspen voters, but the effort made some elected officials nervous, and it forced their hand to act now.

Doyle said he plans to write a letter to his supporters who helped him win his seat last March, explaining why he supports 2A.

“I honestly think we can push this through and do it, and it stops all groups from trying to claim that pot of gold,” he said, adding that this fall’s question honors the intention. the language of the original ballot.

Torre said he realizes it’s a challenge to get 60% of the electorate on board, which is why he intends to campaign hard.

“I plan to talk to people whenever I get the chance, and I intend to broaden the reach and message as much as possible,” he said, adding that he was considering to spend your own money on road signs. “It’s full, and I’m excited for the opportunity and I believe in what we’re doing.”

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