Keeping vision of a lifestyle center

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By The Staff

I want to share my perspectives with you on the Trinity project.

Our county is very proud of our vision to become a vibrant community, attractive for our residents and for others who might come here.  Part of this vision is to develop a lifestyle center, where shopping can be pleasurable, social and fill many of our general retail needs and wants.

A conceptual plan was developed for this lifestyle retail center (and I’ll use this term to express what was intended, versus a shopping center or mall). The options were limited, and required relocation (the Airport Basin project), lease agreements (currently a memorandum of agreement between county and schools), and selection of a business developer (Boyer).  

That was in 2006, three years ago.  An artist rendition of the proposed lifestyle center was developed, and expectations were that a significant improvement to the retail capability would be added by a large anchor tenant. It appeared that Boyer was ready to make things happen as a willing participant to a strong public / private partnership development team.

However, things have not happened.  Rather than a tale of milestones met, it is a story of

“can’t do unless.”

There are several things that concern me.

First, there is still no firm commitment from Boyer regarding an anchor tenant. In order to fulfill the vision of a shopping and lifestyle center, the county needs to be working as a team with Boyer to ensure that the critical role of anchor tenant will meet the expectations of those who voted for the vision.

Second, updated business case financial analyses have not yet been provided by Boyer.

Third, is the one that concerns me the most.  For a complex project like Trinity Place to succeed, it requires that the county, the schools by virtue of their property involvement, and the developer, Boyer Company, work as a strong partnership, a strong team, towards a common goal. And that goal must be consistent with the voters’ perception of the project.  

In fact, our negotiations with our developer Boyer over the last year or so have the appearance of becoming increasingly adversarial instead of teamwork. For example, in a series of 12 communications since August 2007 regarding the property lease agreement, Boyer has either introduced or maintained between four and 27 open issues per communication. Partnerships are not adversarial; and perception has a way of becoming reality.

The financial analyses and income predictions for the project are focused on what the developer perceives as the income flow he can produce for the county. The county also tends to look at the economics of development in a way that brings retail, tax and lease money into the county and school coffers. The premise appears to be “build it and they will come.”

However, there is another factor in the equation.  An anchor tenant, usually connected with a major national corporation, will construct their own business case for locating in Los Alamos. And typically this business case will look at corporate goals and constraints, external economic factors, risk and broader corporate experience. The premise might be “why should I build it before they are here?”  

The challenge of building Trinity Place consistent with our county vision will require true partnership and teamwork with our developer to identify and secure the right anchor. It appears to me that the critical factors for any option are trust, partnership and teamwork with whomever we use as a developer in bringing this lifestyle retail center to fruition.

The path forward should provide requirements for county participation in identifying and working with prospective anchor tenants.

The financial discussions should be very clear about what is required and what is currently available.

Risk factors should be identified and contingency planning considered.

And the county must understand the business modeling at the conceptual level (not proprietary information) that would affect a potential anchor’s decision.

So to conclude, I want to be clear that I am supportive of completing the original vision of the Trinity Place as a Los Alamos lifestyle retail center. As we go forward with an option for our relationship with Boyer Company, I will be carefully considering how we implement these critical factors for success.