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Several members of the Trinity Site Revitalization Project Advisory Committee attended last night’s council meeting to express strong support for county staff negotiations to continue with North American Development Group (NADG) for the development of the Trinity Site.
Acting County Administrator Randy Autio presented the staff briefing.
“We believe that the negotiations are going well, although not as quickly as we’d like,” Autio said. “We feel that NADG and their identified primary tenant Smith’s corporation are moving to get this matter settled and concluded. We are getting assurances from them that through the rest of this calendar year we will be able to finish both the sublease between us and NADG and between NADG and their anchor tenant Smith’s.”
Eugene Schmidt spoke as a both the Superintendant of the Los Alamos Public Schools – the major leaseholder on the property – and as a member of the Trinity Site Revitalization Project Advisory Committee.
Schmidt summed up the committee’s recommendation, saying “We are here to share our belief that the proposed action and timeline presented to the county council provides the best path forward on the Trinity Site development. We as a committee are also here to urge the continued patience on the part of the council as staff and NADG work to bring resolution to this important issue. It is our belief that a suitable agreement will be reached and that our community will benefit from the new shopping experience and the increase in job growth that this new commercial zone will bring. It serves no benefit to stop those negotiations now. Thus we ask the county council and staff to continue negotiations.”
Committer member Denny Erickson called the negotiations “a long distance run.” Erickson offered a suggestion. “I think we, as people, ought to start encouraging Smith’s to commit fully and move forward. I think our personal interactions can affect the difference.” Several council members supported that suggestion. Ideas included petitions and a letter writing campaign by local residents to urge Smith’s to commit.
Councilor Ron Selvage said he supported the project but wanted to pressure NADG and Smith’s into an agreement. “This is a long run, but this is our second race (referring to earlier negotiations with Boyer that fell through), and at some point patience becomes sitting around waiting and nothing happens,” Selvage said. “So I’m willing to give this a while, but if they can’t come to an agreement, at some point we have to give them a hard deadline and tell them at that point we’ll go with somebody else.”
Committee members reacted strongly to that. Andrea Cunningham – who has been on the committee from the start – said, “I’ve seen much more progress with Smith’s, and I’ve seen it steady. One of the issues that we had with Boyer is you had two steps forward and one step back, so you never knew what was progressing and what was being pulled. Here it’s very steady but it’s very slow. They’re getting to a certain point and then they’re negotiating further. It does seem to have a very positive progress.”
Cunningham also said, “We actually had Smith’s Corporate and Regional Director come to the table with us. And we were pretty hard people to go through, because we grilled them. And what we found was that the people we were able to speak with truly understood this community and all that we would have to offer. That’s why we’re talking about letters and such, so if there’s something that they can pass up to their larger corporation that might help.”
Committee member George Chandler’s statement was even stronger, “There are just no good options, no alternatives for what we’re doing now. If what we’re doing now doesn’t come through, then we’re going to be looking at something else to do with that piece of property.”
When Selvage said he did not believe that, since there were other companies vying for the development and one was not tied to Smith’s, Chandler responded, “They always like to say Walmart. But Walmart will always say that they’re interested, because they like to tie up a piece of land and just sit on it,” Chandler said. “Smith’s is our only option, whether it’s NADG or some other guy. Nobody else is going to want to come in here with Smith’s here. This is the realistic thing that we’ve learned. Before you get excited about throwing these guys out and trying to go somewhere else, take a realistic, serious look at your options. They’re not good.”
Committee member Kristen Henderson reinforced that. “No one on the committee wanted to come to this conclusion. You can try to put something else as an anchor store, but there’s very little else retail in the current economy that wants to anchor a situation like this,” Henderson said.
Autio added, “What Smith’s representatives have said is ‘We’ve had a lot of other things going on, and we didn’t give this attention when we should have, and now it’s on our front burner.’”
Chiravalle proposed a way of pressuring NADG, “I want to introduce an ordinance with a draft lease agreement with many of the terms brought up by NADG in November, and get an up or down vote so they know we as a council are committed to doing this.”
Autio responded, “I strongly disagree with that notion. The policy role of council is exactly that: policy. In this instance you’ve given staff guidance; we’ve followed through on that guidance. When we’re in the middle of negotiations, it is not appropriate to take the negotiations into the public. It would be absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
The council then directed staff to continue negotiations, with the goal of having both agreements signed by the end of the year.