Officials: LA commercial development looking up

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County > Variety of businesses show renewed interest in locating here

By Arin McKenna

They may not have signed on the dotted line yet, but many commercial enterprises are taking a closer look at Los Alamos.

“There’s a lot of tire kicking, a lot of people looking —hotels, restaurants, retail,” said Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation Executive Director Scott Randall.

“There are a lot of prospects. We ­—Economic Development, LACDC, the brokers — are seeing a lot of activity out there,” said Los Alamos Economic Vitality Administrator Greg Fisher. “I really don’t know that there are any deals that have closed yet, but the good news is that there’s a lot of activity. I’ve estimated about 50,000 square feet.”
Fisher admits he does not know why interest has surged, but he suspects the Trinity Site development is a key factor.

“$28 million being spent by Kroger Corporation for the Trinity Center is a huge catalyst. That’s a huge commercial investment: probably one of the largest commercial investments in decades in Los Alamos. And that attracts attention,” Fisher said.

“It’s kind of like ‘first in the pool.’ Once Kroger announced, I’m sure that it made ripples through the retail world, and those that may have been on the fence about Los Alamos are really starting to take a closer look now.

“And I will say I do believe some of this has come from our marketing efforts, but it’s very difficult to measure.”
Fisher believes another factor is that businesses are starting to catch on that there is a huge untapped market here, with Los Alamos residents spending only one-third as much per capita within the county as those in neighboring communities.

“The trick is finding the retailers who understand that the wealth in this community is deserving beyond our numbers of certain retail services or certain commercial services,” Fisher said.

Fisher has caught wind of what he calls “some very exciting and appropriate prospects,” including multiple offers on the Hilltop House Hotel (he believes none have been accepted yet), nibbles on the Black Hole and health care businesses, in addition to restaurants and retail.

A factor facilitating the situation, according to Fisher, is more commercial properties going up for sale.

“There are people listing properties for sale that have not been listed for a long, long time. And that will allow us as a group —I’m talking about the county, the developers, the brokers–to work together to package properties in good locations for retail development,” Fisher said.

“And I think that’s the key to our success, is being able to provide, as a community, the right location and the right quality of property for retail redevelopment, and to attract the developers to spend the money.”

One potential space, 1010 Central, next to the municipal building, is also looking hopeful.

“In the last week I’ve spoken to all but one of my prospects and they all remain committed to the project,” Randall said. “I need one more, but I’m still encouraged.”

“These deals can be fragile, and I don’t want to upset a property owner who’s in negotiations and I don’t want to spook a prospect,” Randall said.

Terry Salazar, owner of Los Alamos Commercial Real Estate, explained that for an operating business, commercial activity drops 30 percent as soon as word gets out it is on the market.

Salazar confirmed that there is a lot of activity. He himself is working on some hopeful possibilities, but until financing is approved and the lease is finalized he cannot release information.

“These things don’t happen overnight. It’s not uncommon that those relationships get developed over a few years,” Randall said. “The fact that we’ve got people visiting the community, asking for additional information, talking to business owners. That’s all part of the process. It just doesn’t necessarily happen quickly.”

Fisher stressed that even once the deal is final it can take a very long time for a business to open.

“If a property turns over and demolition occurs and there’s a new project anticipated, it could be two years,” Fisher said. “So none of this is going to happen overnight.”

Workforce housing also has to be stepped up in order to attract and maintain businesses.

“If we attract 100 new jobs in the service sector, those jobs are not necessarily going to allow people to live here, until and unless we have workforce housing,” Fisher said. “So housing is a big component of economic development.”

“So we’re just focused on trying to help these deals along. We’re trying to help them along with planning services and information, and at the same time plan for our infrastructure development, which is going to surround these properties and hopefully spur new development.”

Fisher and Randall are both optimistic about the possibilities they see, barring unforeseen circumstances such as major setbacks to the national economy.

“Commercial development is promising. The commercial development pipeline in Los Alamos is growing,” Fisher said. “It’s really looking better than it was a year ago.”