Crawfords raising commercial rents in El Jebel |

Crawfords raising commercial rents in El Jebel

EL JEBEL ” Businesses in El Jebel are facing rent hikes at a tough time because their landlords claim they can no longer take the laid-back approach they have followed for more than 40 years.

The Crawford family is raising commercial rents at a steep rate as leases expire and, in some cases, requiring written leases for the first time after operating for years on handshake agreements.

Sisters Adele Hubbell and Bonnie Williams and their brother, Noel Crawford, said the rents traditionally charged by their family didn’t reflect soaring property taxes, higher insurance, and money plowed into maintenance and infrastructure.

“We can’t afford to stay in business if we keep doing business that way,” Hubbell said.

A drastic increase in property values and taxes between 2005 and 2007 in a reassessment by Eagle County forced the family to take a hard look at its business model, Hubbell said. They found that the rents charged to tenants often didn’t offset the property taxes on their spaces. That was a “wake up” call that adjustments were needed, she said.

It’s not an issue of the family trying to get ahead, insisted Cleve Williams, Bonnie’s son. They just don’t want to fall farther behind, he said.

El Jebel was little more than a wide spot in the valley when the late Floyd Crawford, the father of Adele, Bonnie and Noel, created a mobile home park in 1964 to house workers on the Fryingpan­Arkansas water diversion project. Over the next four decades, a commercial area also evolved in some old ranch buildings and newer structures centered around the intersection of Highway 82 and El Jebel Road.

The Crawfords earned a reputation as one of the best landlords in the valley. Current rents are as low as $5.39 per square foot on an annual basis. In general, their rents are half as much as found in the nearby Willits Town Center and the Orchard Plaza development, which includes City Market. However, both of those properties are significantly newer than most of the Crawfords’ hold­ings.

The Crawfords had a laid-back business approach. When the parking lot was resurfaced at the El Jebel Plaza (the wood build­ing along Highway 82) in summer 2007, they absorbed the $35,000 expense. Nothing was passed to tenants, Noel Crawford said.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and its predecessor staged buses on Crawford land for decades without rent. The family started charging rent about 10 years ago, but it was only $3,700 annually. The rent was raised to about $66,000 this year, or roughly $1 per square foot.

The Crawfords also paid for towing of abandoned vehicles. The laid-back approach is catching up to the family ” and now their tenants. The Crawfords claim they must resort to significant rent increases to cover their expenses. That hits businesses at a time when many are struggling because of the broader economic crisis.

About 30 businesses rent space from the Crawfords and another 12 entities rent land. At least one business, a barber shop, has left the El Jebel Plaza because of the rent issue and another is leaving at the end of the month. The Crawfords said they know of one other business that is considering leaving.

Several tenants were contacted for this story. All refused to com­ment because they didn’t want to risk harming relations with their landlord.

The rents are going up by different amounts in different cases. Even after rents are increased, they will still be “significantly lower” at El Jebel than elsewhere in the midvalley and other parts of the valley, Cleve Williams said. He believes it still presents the best opportunity for businesses.

“If they can’t make it here, they’re not going to make it anywhere in the valley,” he said.

Word of the rent hike and speculation about the Crawfords’ motives have swirled around the midvalley for the last couple of months. The family representatives said they simply have to make better business decisions. No major redevelopment is being planned, they said, and they will work with existing business to retain them.

“We don’t want anyone to leave. We want everybody to stay,” Williams said.

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