Tackling town’s business woes

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MainStreet Futures Committee opens discussion on economic development

By Mandy Marksteiner

Last summer the MainStreet Futures Committee held a retreat where they tried to figure out what prevents Los Alamos from achieving its vision of becoming a vibrant community.

“To be blunt, at our retreat we were asking, ‘Why is this town dying on the vine?’ ” said Denise Lane. “Why do [residents] voice what they want time after time in surveys and then not get it?”

The committee’s solution was to develop a formal process for the public and private sectors to work together to enable development projects to be successful.

On Tuesday the committee discussed their plan with the council and asked for feedback. Regardless of whether public money is involved, they want to create a forum to discuss developers’ goals and to find out what issues the public may be sensitive about.

By gathering accurate information early in the process, they hoped to minimize risks and optimize opportunities, they said.

The council agreed with spirit of the plan but had objections.

 “What you discussed makes sense and is appealing, but it’s going to be tough,” Councilor Ralph Phelps said.  “A lot of it relies on public education, but the public will be as educated as they want to be. If someone has made up their mind that they’re going to derail a project, that’s what they’re going to do.”

 “There is some inflammatory language that needs to get lost,” said Council Chair Michael Wismer.

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle said the phrase, “unduly influenced by a public that’s uninformed” degrades public opinion.

“If the public does not want the government to do something, the government shouldn’t do it,” he said. “We have to welcome public opinion. I think you should rephrase that or take that language out.”

Committee member and business attorney Steve Laurent responded, “I understand the term was pretty loaded.  We have no intention of making you ignore public opinion.”

“We need to get into the business of economic development if we want to have economic development,” said Kendra Henning, owner of RE/MAX Los Alamos. “We need to be brave about going outside our community to get experts, developers and investors to make this happen.”

“The problems we have today are based on how the town was started,” Lane said, adding that when the government stopped providing the necessities, people were granted property in a way that didn’t necessarily make sense.

“The private sector can’t solve all that alone,” she said. “The county is the biggest landowner. You have the opportunity to assemble land and re-use it in a way that’s more meaningful for the community.” “We’ll have to take a hard look at to what extent we’ll invest public funds into the private sector,” said Wheeler. “At this point I don’t think the Council is prepared to define those limits.”