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There has been much talk about how the Trinity Site Revitalization Project has the potential to change our community forever. I have no doubt that it will. I am less convinced that the changes will be positive.
According to the plan, a new anchor store, a Smith’s Marketplace, will be surrounded by a sea of asphalt on the easternmost part of the downtown. In addition to creating sprawl and hazardous conditions on Trinity Drive, the development will create a grocery monopoly for Smith’s corporation. Monopolies don’t nurture commerce, they stunt it. As owners of the Mari-Mac shopping center and anchor tenant of the planned Trinity Site strip mall, Smith’s will enjoy exclusive license to serve up whatever type of food and merchandise they choose to a captive community audience, like it or not.
Favorite and popular sought-after name-brand items that Los Alamos shoppers enjoy will be replaced by “Private Selection” substitutes, a phenomenon that those of us who have been paying attention have already noticed taking place at the current Smith’s. Imagine our community’s value to the corporation as marketing Guinea pigs or social-engineering test subjects! I hope at least we’ll get loyalty discounts.
If we revisit the beginnings of the Trinity Site saga, we can recall how five years ago our community was sold a fable that was rolled into Ordinance 529, which promised a lavish “lifestyle center,” replete with a big-box retailer (Target was the name dangled before us), an ice cream store, a bowling alley, restaurants, entertainment venues, gathering places and beautiful canyon-edge walking paths. Now we are being asked to settle on diminished expectations and stomach a larger version of our already existing grocery store. It’s kind of like telling the kids that the family’s week at Disney World has been rejiggered into an afternoon at Cliff’s Amusement Park. Most of us have no trouble envisioning what the outcome of the Ordinance 529 election would have been if voters had been told “Smith’s Marketplace” instead of lies.
And don’t be fooled: While developers will say nearly anything at this stage of the game to keep the ball rolling, any amenities at the planned strip mall will be paid for with community tax dollars under the ruse of public-private partnership — a fancy, palatable name for subsidized or socialized development.
Best case, our community will see short-term gains as the excitement of a new establishment sustains a temporary shopping frenzy at the revitalized Trinity Site. That trend may continue for a year or 18 months, maybe even a little longer. Eventually people will realize that our new shopping paradise holds only the same food selection we’ve suffered with for years, and that the “marketplace” part of the store consists of a limited selection of lower-quality outdoor goods, clothing that is at or below Wal-Mart grade, and assorted tawdry merchandise disguised by a premium price tag as something better than it actually is.
The final result will be a return to the retail leakage problem that Los Alamos has experienced for many years, as people flee the Hill to get their hands on a decent piece of meat or edible produce — picking up a few other items from out-of-town stores while they’re at it — or continue to make purchases from the convenience of their iPhones or computer keyboards.
Hopefully, by the time that happens, county leadership will have come up with yet another economic development scheme to turn loose on yet another citizen’s committee to dazzle us and prevent the community from dwelling on the monumental mistake that is the current course of the Trinity Site Revitalization Project.