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I have been reading letters to the editor and guest editorials about the wisdom of entering into an agreement with North American Development Group to develop the Trinity Site with Smith’s as the anchor tenant.
I served on the committee that extended an RFP for this project to more than 80 developers.
We chose the best five proposals on which to conduct due diligence and interview.
The committee was a diverse group of citizens who represented Los Alamos and White Rock with varied ages, family structures and backgrounds.
Our main objective was to maximize income for the Los Alamos Public Schools and select the best project presented to achieve this goal.
We started with high expectations and most wanted an integrated lifestyle center that would energize our downtown.
After extensive interviews with developers, marketing representatives and retail consultants, it became clear that vision was not going to be a reality. We then started to look for the best alternative.
We knew from county surveys that families in Los Alamos wanted a contemporary retail option in our community.
We also knew that we needed an anchor store to attract other smaller chain stores and provide the traffic to entice existing retailers and other service companies to relocate to the site.
Of the five proposals we selected, the only anchor identified was Smith’s (three had Smith’s and the other two did not have an anchor identified.) The committee felt it would be beneficial to have a different anchor to offer an alternative to the current Smith’s in Los Alamos and in White Rock.
We challenged the developers to find someone else.
The sad fact emerged that there was not another grocery store or large box interested without large subsidies from the community.
The committee felt a meeting with the top management of Kroger’s would help us decide if the community would benefit from a new store or just be getting more of the same products we currently receive from their existing operations.
We did meet and were satisfied that the new store would indeed be a significant improvement from the current operation.
They would be moving from a 30,000-square-foot facility with inadequate power, storage, refrigeration, aisles and rack space to a 110,000-square-foot store with the best of everything, including 50,000 square feet of additional non- food products.
They would have restrictions on competing business that might move into the vacated Mari-Mac Shopping Center space, but they pointed out that they had a large investment in that space and would work hard to market and fill the empty footage.
They also argue that this would offer less expensive alternatives to businesses that couldn’t afford the new space being offered in the new Trinity Site Development. When discussing expansion at the current location, the management of Smith’s stated that a modern store with the specifications required, size, parking and delivery cannot be done at the Mari-Mac site without leveling the current buildings and starting over.
In their opinion, that option is too expensive and would entail closing the current store for more than two years.
It was not considered a viable option for a new store.
After completing hours of due diligence and interviews, the committee unanimously agreed that the NADG proposal was the best option for our community.
This recommendation was taken to the Los Alamos County Council and they unanimously approved the proposal.
Recently, there has been criticism that the lease rate was too low or fixed for too long of a time and that the property is better suited for some other use.
The lease rate is not low in the current market.
I would have liked to have seen the escalation rate be more frequent then what was negotiated, but again, the market is uncertain and this will bring needed money to the local schools in the near future.
If we do not enter into this agreement, I do not know of any other parties interested in any kind of development on the site and thus no revenue stream in the foreseeable future.
Lost opportunity costs have to be considered.
In addition, the gross receipts tax and property tax generated by the new activities are not fixed and will increase over time.
As far as appropriate use of the property, I believe retail is the right choice.
The community has made it clear in a number of surveys that this needs to be a top priority for the county.
We also need to work hard to keep Los Alamos National Laboratory competitive with the other research facilities when recruiting personnel.
One important factor for recruiting is quality of life – in which shopping, restaurants and public events are important elements.
Small communities are struggling to keep retail businesses and we have to be as aggressive as we can be to take advantage of opportunities that arrive.
They are few and far between for communities our size.
The suggestion that the proposed retail would be taking up space that would be better utilized for office space or housing is not valid.
The Trinity Site plan along with the adjacent vacant parcels has ample space for all of those uses.
In addition, the Los Alamos Research Park, located next to LANL, currently has five universities located in the space and room for more than 400,000 more square feet of laboratory and office expansion.
It is time to quit debating and start building in downtown Los Alamos.
TRSPAC Board member