Down on Mill Street
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” The tenant profile at the Mill Street Commercial Center could look very different in November.
At least three businesses ” Aspen Tile, Alps Video and White Pheonix Kung Fu and Tai Chi ” will be leaving their spaces when their leases expire at the end of October. Green Dry Cleaning and Laundry, the only Laundromat in town, is still in negotiations with the owner.
“We’re hoping we can stay,” said owner Ryan Chadwick.
In June 2007, the building was purchased by a group of investors led by Aspen attorney Andy Hecht. The investors paid $13.3 million for the 20,000-square-foot building.
Notices sent to tenants in August 2007 gave them the option to sign a new three-year contract with a rent increase as high as 30 percent or letting their current leases expire this month. Businesses were given just a few days to decide. This year, tenants who declined to sign last year’s lease were told they must pay a lump sum before signing a new lease “and take a rent increase.
“If I handed them $8,000 for the last year, then I would have had the opportunity to sign a new lease for 30 percent more than I pay today,” said Steve Stevens, owner of Alps Video.
Stevens has decided not to re-open his business elsewhere. Instead, he has listed his entire collection of movies on craigslist.com.
Aspen Tile plans to move down the street to Obermeyer Place, after 24 years at its current location. Last year, owner Tim Fortier explained that he was able to buy three spaces there for $1.7 million, so his mortgage payment will be the same as his current rent. If he had stayed at the Mill Street Commercial Center, his monthly payment would have increased by more than 30 percent, he said.
Michael Franke, of White Pheonix Kung Fu and Tai Chi, did not yet have details about whether or where the studio would move, but he released this statement: “Grand Master Joel Castillo is not interested in any way, shape or form in signing a new lease at any price.”
Mike Wampler of Aspen Velo bike shop, did not sign the new lease last year, but he decided to sign this year. He said he has children to support and that he doesn’t think he will find another place in Aspen that will be any more affordable.
Several of the tenants did take the option to sign a three-year lease last year. One tenant, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that his monthly fees went from $2,200 to $3,300, adding an additional $15,000 to his costs each year.
“I’m stuck now until November of 2010,” he said.
Chris McLaughlin, the owner of Aspen Repair, signed the new lease last year in order to get the security of having his shop open for three more years.
But he noted that his expenses have gone up with the new owners, particularly because of the Common Area Maintenance (CAM) fees.
The old owners hired someone to empty the trash regularly and occasional maintenance workers, he said. Now, there is a professional management company caring for the building.
“The building is looking better all the time,” he acknowledged. But he noted that the cost of all the maintenance ” from leaf-blowers to wasp-removers ” is passed on to the tenants.
Walter Voight, owner of Walter’s Carpet, said he accepted what he called a “slight” increase in monthly fees in return for being able to stay in the same place.
“I just didn’t want the hassle,” he said. “How are you going to find another place in Aspen?”
A.P. Limberios, owner of Downtown Detail, signed his lease just as the new owners came onboard last year. But he noted that his rent will go up 5 percent this year, and he expected his CAM charges would as well. The increases, coupled with the declining economy, make him nervous. Last month, he said, his business was down 45 percent from last year.
“It’s getting tough. It’s scary,” he said. “I’m nervous.”
But he pointed out that he can always move his business elsewhere, if rents in Aspen become untenable. But he worried that Aspenites will soon either have to drive long distances for basic services or pay exorbitant amounts.
“You want to pay $500 for me to wash your car?” he asked.
Representatives from Katie Reed Management, which manages the property, did not return phone calls seeking comments about the leases.
The area is zoned Service-Commercial-Industrial by the city. City code says the intention of the zone is “preserve and enhance locally-serving, primarily non-retail small business areas to ensure a more balanced permanent community; to protect the few remaining such small business parks historically used primarily for light industrial uses, manufacturing, repair, storage and servicing of consumer goods, with limited retail, showroom, or customer reception areas.”
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City of Aspen officials are trying to figure out what the downtown core looks like this winter as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state and in some parts of the country.