El Jebel sees its ownership consolidated
Some members of the family that has owned El Jebel for more than 50 years bought out other family members earlier this year in what is being called an “amicable” consolidation.
Three members of the Crawford family purchased or otherwise acquired the interests of multiple other family members, according to Robert Hubbell, president and CEO of Crawford Properties LLC and a member of its board of directors.
“It was amicable,” Hubbell said. “It wasn’t a family feud.”
Other family members wanted to invest in different ways or retire out of the family holdings, he said. The three major shareholders remaining are Robert and his brother, Prentice Hubbell, and their uncle, Noel Crawford. Members of their immediate families also have interests.
Even before the consolidation, the Crawford family established a board of directors and filled it with three family members and two outside the family, including Bob Guion, of Old Snowmass.
Guion said Crawford Properties LLC acquired a financing package from Alpine Bank that allowed the purchase for consolidation as well as the funds to buy 2.5 acres of the former Fitzsimmons Motors property across Highway 82 from Wendy’s and make improvements to the El Jebel infrastructure.
Hubbell said the focus for the next couple of years will be to upgrade the infrastructure and amenities of the El Jebel Mobile Home Park — home to roughly 1,600 people — and the surrounding area.
The biggest improvement will be joining the Mid Valley Metropolitan District for sewage service. That will cost more than $500,000, Guion said.
Hubbell said it would be a two-year project to switch to Mid Valley service from a private sewage-treatment system that includes lagoons in the middle of the Crawford family’s open space at the base of Missouri Heights. It made sense to phase out rather than replace the aging sewage system, he said.
“We have a treatment plant that’s state-of-the-art less than a mile away,” Hubbell said. The lagoons are “going away” and will be reclaimed, he said.
The ownership also has upgraded a ballfield that is a centerpiece of El Jebel. Roads within the mobile-home park also were improved.
El Jebel has been a free-market enclave of affordable housing since it was created in the early 1960s. Floyd and June Crawford purchased the property in 1961 and operated it as a cattle ranch. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation approached Crawford in the early 1960s with a proposal to provide affordable housing for workers on Ruedi Reservoir and the surrounding diversion system. Crawford initially placed 38 mobile homes on his property. By the time work on the diversion system ended, Aspen was taking off as a resort, and the demand for affordable housing was rising.
The El Jebel Mobile Home Park continued to grow in increments over the years and is now at 289 units, Hubbell said. Many of the families and individuals own their mobile homes and rent space. Demand for space remains high.
“We probably get one to three people per day looking for a place to rent,” Hubbell said.
Floyd and June Crawford died in the 1990s, and their sons and daughters took over the family business. Noel Crawford is a son of theirs, and Robert and Prentice Hubbell are grandsons. Their mother, Adele Hubbell, retired from the family business.
The mobile-home park has always been a place for the working class of the Roaring Fork Valley to live, said Hubbell, who graduated from Basalt High School in 1986 and Colorado State University in 1991 before serving in the Marines as a helicopter pilot for 10 years. He then returned to El Jebel and helped run the family business.
He said several residents of the mobile-home park were hit hard when Mid-Continent Resources shut down its coal-mining operations in the 1980s. In the decades since, El Jebel saw a big influx of Hispanics looking for affordable housing after finding resort-oriented or construction jobs in Aspen and Snowmass Village. Hubbell estimated that the population of the mobile-home park is 60 percent Hispanic.
“We really have embraced their culture,” Hubbell said. “We’ve extended a hand out.”
In addition to the mobile-home park, Crawford Properties rents space to 21 commercial tenants, ranging from the Bella Mia and Downvalley Tavern restaurants to the auto-parts store and master blacksmith Vaughn Shaffer. The company owns what’s known as the El Jebel Plaza, which fronts Highway 82. It also owns several buildings located in old ranch buildings scattered about the property. It is also the tenant for Eagle Crest Nursery, which recently went through a major overhaul with new greenhouses and a retail building.
Crawford Properties also owns 18 apartments and other residences, mostly above the El Jebel Plaza.
Some residents of the mobile-home park criticized Crawford Properties last year when it raised their rents. Hubbell and Guion said the increase was necessary to raise the capital needed for the improvements. Other steps are being considered to nurture the community feel of El Jebel, including establishment of a community garden.
Once improvements to the existing facilities are finished, the company will look at development opportunities. It owns 255 acres of land in the heart of El Jebel. Roughly 150 acres is open space. Much of that open space is hay fields and pasture for a domestic elk herd. Blue Creek runs through the center of the open space.
Crawford Properties is working with Eagle County and the town of Basalt on a long-range plan for its property. Hubbell said he views El Jebel as a part of the broader midvalley rather than a competitor of areas such as downtown Basalt and Willits. The board of directors of Crawford Properties is bullish on the midvalley and opportunities for expansion.
Guion said they are regularly approached with development proposals. They aren’t ready to pursue any at this time but remain open-minded.
“We could certainly see more businesses,” Guion said. He noted that El Jebel might be an appropriate place for chain restaurants such as Chick-fil-A or Red Lobster that wouldn’t be a good fit in Willits.
Hubbell said the company’s board would focus in 2014 on the future.
“We’re really keying off 50 years of trying to do right by the community,” Guion said.
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