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Creative District gets council nod

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Downtown: Staff to bring more details in 90 days

By Arin McKenna

By a 6-0 vote, Los Alamos County Council passed a resolution adopting the Creative District Plan and its proposed boundaries as a state authorized designated Arts & Cultural District.

Senior Planner Martha Perkins, Economic/Marketing Coordinator Kelly Stewart and Los Alamos Community Development Corporation Executive Director Kevin Holsapple presented the resolution.

The district currently has provisional status from the state, but the state is receiving new applications from other communities and has asked for a commitment from the county. Some grant deadlines have already been missed due to delays in adopting the plan.

Support materials included 10 letters and 250 postcards advocating for the district, with 40 of the postcards from Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce members.

“This is something that will be catalytic in bringing new projects in, and state and federal funding as well,” Stewart said. Adoption of the district makes it eligible for grant money for operational costs from the New Mexico Arts & Cultural District fund.

“It’s really about creating a collective identity for downtown attractions. We have a whole bunch of great cultural assets, but there’s no collective identity surrounding that. We think that is part of the explanation for why you see more that 200,000 visits to an attraction like Bandelier, while we see well less than half that number to Los Alamos,” Holsapple said.

Holsapple believes this will act as a catalyst for developing supportive services such as restaurants, retail and hospitality businesses throughout the county. “And we think it’s going to improve our county’s capacity for economic benefit from visitation and tourism, by having a much more focused and stronger argument for visiting and spending time downtown and in our community.”

“It is really an energizing entity, because with the support of the state and the marketing dollars that may be able to come in and with some of the new implantation ideas that have been brought in, it really has gotten a lot of us excited and there’s a lot of collaboration going on between cultural organizations as a result of the meetings of the steering committee,” said Heather McClenahan, executive director for Los Alamos Historical Society.

Los Alamos National Laboratory Associate Director for Maintenance and Infrastructure Planning Jay Johnson spoke on behalf of laboratory and presented a letter from Director Charlie McMillan. LANL supports the Creative District as a way to enhance the appeal of Los Alamos in order to attract and retain top talent.

Councilors expressed concerns that there would be repercussions from the state if funding from the county or physical structures such as a convention center were not forthcoming.

“The resolution does not imply any commitment to particular projects or funding. The state is comfortable with that,” Holsapple said. “Your action tonight does not create any commitment to particular projects or to funding in any way. It really sets in motion a staff activity to work on recommendations.”

Los Alamos Historical Society President and steering committee member Ron Wilkins added his thoughts on that. “I think the main point is programming. If we get enough things going on with programming, eventually there will be support for building appropriate facilities.”

Councilor Mike Wismer was concerned that details concerning governance, management and funding of the creative district had not been included. County Administrator Harry Burgess said that since options for governance and management included the possibility of contracting with private entities, anything too specific could have created procurement issues. Approving the district allows the county to proceed with Request for Proposals to identify more specific options.

Karen Wray, owner of Karen Wray Fine Art, wrote the only letter opposing the proposed boundaries. Wray’s gallery, on the Southside of Trinity, is outside the initial boundary.

Wilkins, who chaired the physical development subcommittee, explained the reasoning behind the boundaries. The state requires a compact, walkable district, and the committee believed that Trinity, as it is now, “is just not walkable from downtown.”

Committee members stressed that there were no obstacles or bureaucratic hoops to go through to expand the district at a later date, as long as the boundaries were contiguous and “make sense.”    

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle asked about items such as requiring public artwork at private businesses or removing on street parking. Perkins pointed out that those were not even in the plan.

“This plan is very consistent with the comprehensive plan, with the downtown element and with the old downtown master plan,” Perkins said.

Wismer made the motion to adopt the plan, with direction to staff to return in 90 days with options for governance, management and funding, including options for a tax increment district for both the Creative and Downtown districts.

Vice Chair Ron Selvage, who chaired most of last night’s meeting during Chair Sharon Stover’s absence, gave the strongest support for the plan.

“For years we’ve had the lab come to us and say, we can’t bring in top recruits, we need the county to do something. And now they’ve come to us and said, this is something that will help recruitment at the lab, so I think it’s good to support that.

“I don’t know what councilor told you to be bold in your vision of this, but I agree with it. But I would remind you bold is not necessarily lavish and expensive. It’s a creative district, so be creative with that.

“On the tax increment district, this doesn’t raise taxes, and I think this is something we need to do, especially with Trinity Site coming online, so we can take advantage of that increment and gross receipts tax coming down the road.”

Tourism Council shares stats

 LACDC Executive Director Kevin Holsapple provided these statistics from the U.S. Cultural & Heritage Tourism Marketing Council in support of the Creative District:

• 78 percent, or 118.3 million, U.S. adult travelers attended a cultural activity or event while on a trip in 2009.
• Within the next 12 months, 24 percent of U.S. leisure travelers will take a cultural or heritage trip.
• Individual cultural and heritage travelers took about five trips in the past year compared to non-cultural and heritage travelers that took about four trips in the past year.
• Two-thirds of cultural and heritage travelers visited some sort of historic site.
• More than half visited museums or galleries.
• 58 percent of the travelers want their trip to be educational.
• 65 percent of cultural and heritage travelers seek travel experience where the “destination, its buildings and surroundings have retained their historic character.”
• Cultural and heritage travelers are more likely to partake in culinary activities.
• Cultural and heritage travelers spend about $994 per trip compared to $611 spent on the average U.S. trip.
• 45 percent spend more of their money on cultural and heritage activities than they do on anything else while on their trip.
• 37 percent would pay more for lodging if it somehow reflects the culture or heritage of the destination they are visiting.