Business owners turn to council for help
ASPEN Business owners who are facing jacked-up rents in the Mill Street Commercial Center pleaded with the City Council on Monday to save locally serving businesses in the area.Tenants in the center, which is zoned Service-Commercial-Industrial, or SCI, predict that close to two dozen businesses will fold in the next couple of years because of increased rents – and as a result of government’s lack of enforcement on who can set up shop there.Businesses at the Mill Street Commercial Center, located near the Aspen post office, last week were sent notices that their new landlords are raising the rent by as much as 30 percent, forcing them to either commit to the new deal or hope their leases will be renewed after they expire next year.Tenants at the complex were given the notices by Katie Reed Management LLC, the property management company hired by North Mill Street LLC, which bought the 20,000-square-foot structure for $15 million in June. The building’s tenants include businesses such as a bike shop and a laundromat, among others. The notice indicates the basic rent is being increased by 5 percent annually, instead of the 3.5 percent increase that normally kicked in each year. But the biggest change in the lease is the addition of paying the Common Area Maintenance fee, or CAM, which includes taxes, utilities and insurance for the building.For Tim Fortier, who owns Aspen Tile, that means his rent will increase from $13,337 per month to $14,004 for the first year. Add the monthly CAM fees of $4,243, and Fortier’s looking at a more than 30 percent increase – or more than $50,000 annually – over his current lease. Aspen Velo bike shop owner Michael Wampler on Monday said he and the other tenants agreed to “play as a team” and not sign new leases. When the leases expire next October, Wampler predicts he and only one or two other businesses will be able to sign leases with higher rents.”These people aren’t going to make it,” Wampler said. “There will be 16 or 18 vacancies down there.”Steve Stevens, who owns Alp Video located in the center, said the SCI zone is extremely important to keeping locally-serving businesses in town. He was grandfathered into the zone after running an upholstery shop in the same location. But as businesses that aren’t service or industrial driven continue to “sneak” into the zone, it will be easier for the new owners to make a case for higher rents.Stevens predicts that the building’s landlord, Andrew Hecht, a principal in North Mill Street LLC and his partners, will in the future argue for different zoning because they can’t make a profit on their investment renting to small businesses like repair shops.Another business owner said he has no idea what the landlord’s intentions are, but he does believe the city government needs to enforce what types of businesses are allowed in the SCI zone.Tenants had until 5 p.m. Friday to decide whether to keep the existing lease or commit to the extended one. However, after meeting with Katie Reed Management’s Russell Cattaneo on Friday, tenants said he agreed to give them some extra time to decide.There has been some speculation that the new owners plan to eventually tear down the building and model it after Obermeyer Place, an SCI-zoned development nearby on Bleeker Street.Mayor Mick Ireland said the City Council will discuss the success and effectiveness of the SCI zone in the near future, and how it can protect locally-serving businesses.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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