A big-box is vital to Los Alamos

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By Vincent Chiravalle

In my view all of the options for the Trinity site development presented to the council on July 23 will lead to the eventual termination of negotiations with Boyer and with that we will lose any chance of getting a new big box store in the near future. This is an unacceptable outcome for our community.

Option 1 involves talking with other developers and exploring other potential deals in the marketplace while continuing to talk with Boyer. This option is not the current path. We can’t negotiate in good faith with Boyer while at the same time talking with other developers.

We haven’t done so in the past and we shouldn’t start now. In order to reach a deal both the county and Boyer must be committed to each other. Option 1 would undermine that commitment and would kill any deal with Boyer rather than facilitate one.

Option 2 would have the council set a firm deadline for Boyer to sign and then would have negotiations terminated if a deal isn’t reached. I don’t agree with this option because setting a deadline without committing to a viable financial model for the project will lead to the termination of negotiations. Given the economic difficulties faced by the developer in terms of rent and construction costs, the county needs to do more in order to make a deal happen.

Option 3 is termination of the negotiations with Boyer. This option would force the County to either develop the property itself or find another developer. Both of these scenarios have considerable risks relative to our current position.

If the county were to take on the role of developer we would have to spend another 20 million dollars or more to complete the project, and there would be no guarantee that we could reach a deal with a big box retailer to anchor the site. We have already committed 75 million dollars of public money for new facilities at the Airport Basin and demolishing the existing buildings at the Trinity site. We should not commit another 20 million dollars to this project. A private developer should assume the cost for the new buildings on the site rather than the county.

If we choose to go forward with another developer, we simply don’t know whether the new developer would present the county with a better deal or be able to secure a big box store.

The economic conditions that Boyer faces, high rent costs and high construction costs, would also factor into the ability of any other developer to make a deal with the county. Is there any reason to think that we could have a better deal or reach a deal faster with another developer? I am not convinced. Furthermore I can not dismiss the possibility that we will enter into lengthy negotiations with another developer only to have those negotiations fail without a big box store being secured.

There is another path forward, separate from the three options presented at the meeting July 23, and this path doesn’t involve deadlines or discussions with other developers.

As I see it we could complete a deal with Boyer now. Part of this deal would be the phased development of the site with the big-box store being built first. Other components would follow at a subsequent time when market conditions allow. Two potential anchors, Kroger and Wal-Mart, remain interested in the Trinity site. A viable financial model for the project would include a contribution from the county for some of the utility and road work associated with the Trinity site using LEDA economic development funds. I believe we should try to make this kind of deal rather than move away from Boyer now and in so doing kill the big-box store.

It has been suggested that we use the Trinity site for another purpose such as a new Municipal Building. Putting a new Municipal Building on the site would be a slap in the face to the majority of voters who approved Ordinance 529. Furthermore this approach does nothing to help those families who now travel great distances to get the goods they need and denies our public schools needed lease revenue.

We will not be successful in broadening our economy and attracting young families to our community if we don’t create local retail options for the basic amenities. I support continuing to work with Boyer only because I see no better way to get a big-box store in the near future. We need a big-box store, and when the Council meets for a special public meeting on August 13, I hope we don’t throw away another opportunity to get one.