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Council looks at redistributing Wheeler surplus

Patrick Fort
Aspen Public Radio

On Tuesday, Aspen City Council will discuss how to spend the Wheeler Opera House’s surplus revenue. The extra funds come partially from a voter-approved real estate transfer tax (RETT).



The Wheeler has about $32 million currently in its coffers. It’s been using less and less of the RETT subsidy, due to increased revenue from event attendance, investments and more money from the tax because of good real estate years. And now, it’s projected to have a $10 million surplus over the next decade.  

Council is considering using the funds for grants to arts nonprofits, the Red Brick Center for the Arts or other purposes.   

Gena Buhler, the executive director of the Wheeler, said Tuesday’s discussion will be about whether to deviate from the original purpose of the RETT tax, and she highlighted some key questions that remain unanswered.


“Where are the priorities?" she said. "Where is it initially with what the voters said, and where are we going to go from there?”

The tax, which passed in 1979 and was renewed in 2016, was meant to help with renovation and maintenance of the Wheeler, and to support “the visual and performing arts.” Any redirection of the funds would likely require voter approval.  

Because RETT funds are volatile -- they are affected by up or down real estate years -- city staff is recommending that council use the excess funds for one-time expenditures.

The council meeting begins at 4:00 p.m. Tuesday.  




Contributor Christin Kay is passionate about the rich variety of arts, cultural experiences and stories in the Roaring Fork Valley. She has been a devotee of public radio her whole life. Christin is a veteran of Aspen Public Radio, serving as producer, reporter and interim news director.
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