Trinity Place at a crossroads

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By The Staff

Thursday’s special meeting of the Los Alamos County Council to discuss the status of the Trinity Site project was a welcome development but an unwelcome piece of troubling news.

Many people will say they saw this coming for quite awhile, and many will be glad that the shifting realities of the situation have finally surfaced.

It should be no surprise in the current financial and economic environment that the developer, The Boyer Company, has encountered difficulties finding an “anchor,” the star attraction upon which the whole plan depends.

This much was understandable, although not really acknowledged in so many words until this week. Where are they going to find a retail operation that is willing to make a substantial commitment at this time?  The daunting landscape for evaluating risks has been an obvious fact of life for most of us, since the fall of Lehman Brothers on Sept. 15, 2008.

Councilors began talking about the need to consider a Plan B earlier this year, but put that off until now.

Assistant County Administrator Anthony Mortillaro was absolutely correct in his presentation when he described Los Alamos as less impacted than most other parts of the country. He is somewhat reassuring when he reminds us that there is still time for everything to work out, since construction can’t begin until a year from now, after the school and county buildings have been relocated to the Airport Basin.

A great deal is riding on this project, but suddenly it seems quite vulnerable.

At least we are now confronted with a better sense of the challenges faced by the developer. Wade Williams, a partner for The Boyer Company, held out some hope Thursday evening that a deal could still be worked out with either Kroger Marketplace or Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart, needless to say, has the wherewithal to take on the challenge, but comes with its own baggage, including other retailers and dedicated opponents who can be counted on to contest the giant’s approach at every step.

Kroger Marketplace’s role now has an additional imponderable to think about, which has to do with the revelation that Smith’s has just purchased the near-by Mari-Mac Plaza.

After the council heard public comment, Mortillaro said, “We found out around June 9 that Mari-Mac has been sold to Smith’s. That change in ownership has added additional complexity for adding an anchor.”

Well, that’s easy to see. Smith’s Food and Drug is a division of The Kroger Company and Smith’s Marketplace is an extension of Smith’s. Without much information to go on, one can only wonder what machinations are at work in this situation, when the prime candidate for the anchor role shies away from one investment and snaps up the other one across the street.

A summary document included with Thursday’s meeting information was revealing, with a chronology of relevant meetings, dating back to 1965. Fast forward about half-way through the list to Council’s approval, Dec. 1, 2006, of “the special all-mailed ballot election” for a $75 million bond ordinance, apparently pursuant to earlier meetings in the summer and fall in which a sole provider, The Boyer Company, submitted their business and site plans.

According to a quick count of the chronology, there were 22 closed sessions compared to about 16 notable public meetings over the next two years.

Considering the current result and the divergent opinions now suddenly heard on the council, one can readily conclude that this project has not been well served by having been so closely shielded from public view and awareness.

While each of these closed sessions was no doubt technically valid and perhaps even required by law, the net result at hand is less than the community could expect.

The public has a little more than two weeks to give council the feedback they will need to decide what to do now.