Citizens chime in on Trinity Site

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TRSP Advisory Committee reports on progress made in choosing developer

By Kirsten Laskey

Questions and suggestions filled the air during a second public listening session regarding the Trinity Site Revitalization Project (TRSP) at White Rock Town Hall Thursday evening.

There’s been a lot of “almosts” regarding the TRSP, said Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent and TRSP Advisory Committee Member Gene Schmidt.

But with a new developer ready to pull the trigger on the long-awaited project, the committee is prepared to recommend North American Development Group to County Administrator Tony Mortillaro.

Mortillaro is expected to endorse the TRSP Advisory Committee’s recommendation and then present it for county council consideration at Tuesday’s meeting, which is set for 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Community Building.

If approved by the council, then the next step, Schmidt said, is for the county administrator’s team to draft a contract with the developer.

But before the issue is brought before the council, the committee first took it to the people. The public listening session Thursday was the second of two with the other one taking place Monday in the Los Alamos Research Park.  

Attendees included a mix of local residents, along with current and newly-elected county councilors.
The committee explained they had selected North American Development Group, along with an anchor, the Kroger Company, which proposes to construct a Smith’s Marketplace that would offer groceries and general merchandise.

The main goal behind the project is to maximize revenue for Los Alamos Public Schools. The district would share the revenue with the county, Schmidt said. LAPS would receive 52 percent of lease revenue while the county would take 48 percent.

Other key points raised during the meeting included the leakage of retail expenditures Los Alamos experiences. Schmidt said 70 percent of every dollar earned in Los Alamos is being spent “off the hill.” Developing Trinity “will do much to stop that leakage,” he said.

Another concern expressed revolves around what will happen to the Mari-Mac shopping center that currently serves as home to Smith’s Food and Drug.

Schmidt said the Mari-Mac owners (Kroger/Smith’s) have no intention of leaving the shopping center vacant. Others on the committee pointed out that Kroger has a sizeable investment in Mari-Mac, and, as any business, the company expects to see a return on investment. He added because of its convenience and location, the Smith’s in White Rock will not be closed.  

An audience member voiced some concerns over the appearance of the new grocery/general merchandise store, noting that “Mari Mac is not the most handsome or appealing to shoppers.”

Committee member Andrea Cummings said because the current owners are interested in building a new store, they did not want to invest heavily in the old one. She added that Smith’s executives showed pictures from other stores already in operation that depicted their plans for the new store here, which included twice as much grocery space, wide aisles that would be easy for shoppers to navigate as well as attractive displays.  

The individual also questioned not having any competition for the new grocery store. “It’s still the only grocery store in town,” she said.

Committee member Stan Primak said the committee debated over what could be Smith’s competition. He said the only other major grocery chain in New Mexico is Albertson’s, which is said to be facing financial difficulty.

Schmidt pointed out that the Los Alamos Cooperative’s food market will be open a year before the new Smith’s grocery store would be ready for business, and the company would have to ensure their pricing is competitive to other food stores in Northern New Mexico.

Elizabeth Jones wondered why Wal-Mart would not be interested in Los Alamos. She said her hometown of about 8,000 had a Wal-Mart and if a town of farmers could support the store, why not a town of rocket scientists?

Committee member Keven Todd said the whole point behind the project was to generate revenue for the school district, which would have been difficult with Wal-Mart because the company typically either wants hefty tax breaks or to purchase land at a reduced rate.

Newly-elected county councilor Ron Selvage asked the committee if they had any assurances that the development would not turn into just another strip mall.

At this point, committee member Kevin Holsapple said, only a developer is being recommended. Those are things that will have to be negotiated with NADG, if approved. However, he said that any “bells and whistles” or amenities that are ultimately included in the project will have to be paid for by someone.

Kirsten Laskey can be reached at lareporter@lamonitor.com