Trinity Site goes vertical

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Construction > Smith’s Marketplace is on track for a May 2014 opening

By Arin McKenna

When council approved the assignment of the Trinity Site lease from North American Development Group (NADG) to Smith’s/Kroger in September 2012, then Los Alamos County Council Chair Sharon Stover said, “Maybe the third time’s the charm, but I don’t know. You’ve seen the movie ‘Groundhog Day?’ That’s what this has been like.”

A proposal from Boyer Company had preceded the NADG agreement. Attempts to develop the site stretched back 15 years.

Now something many doubted they would ever see is becoming a reality: vertical construction on the Trinity Site is changing the skyline of Los Alamos. The walls of a new 110,000-square-foot Smith’s Marketplace and two other retail spaces are rising rapidly.

The fact that Smith’s decided to begin construction on the two smaller structures before even laying the foundation for the Marketplace has surprised some observers.

NADG’s plan was to construct the anchor store before beginning construction on outlying structures.

The lease allows 36 months after signing to fill at least 10,500 square feet of additional space, and 60 months to build out the entire 35,000 square feet.

Initially, Smith’s appeared to be following the NADG plan.

“Our feeling is that we’re so committed to the anchor store that when that goes vertical and people can actually come up on the hill and see what’s being built, hopefully that will generate excitement for the whole development and more people will come and have an interest in being there,” Smith’s Vice President of Corporate Development Steve Sorenson told council the night the agreement was approved.

But early in the planning stages Smith’s decided to advance construction on two of the six additional structures.

“The reasoning I was given was that it would help entice prospective businesses to sign agreements for occupying the space in the near future,” County Administrator Harry Burgess said.

“They were having some difficulty doing it all on paper— ‘here’s what we plan to build’ — and initiating that construction would be ultimately more representative of the type of space that they were going to attempt to lease.”

“We’re anxious to get those structures built and leased out to the right partners,” said Smith’s Food and Drug Vice President Public Affairs Marsha Gilford. “We’re actively pursuing that right now, so should we get something signed, we’ll want to make that available as quickly as possible, according to contract.”

As to where negotiations stand, Gilford responded, “Currently, we are in active negotiations with several parties but no leases have been signed to date.”

Doubts persist about Smith’s ability to fill the additional retail space, in particular, whether it can attract new restaurants and retailers to Los Alamos.

Kroger’s Corporate Real Estate Manager Don Barnett addressed that skepticism during last September’s council session, stressing the company’s track record.

Kroger’s owns and manages shopping centers in 42 locations with more than 370 tenants. Nine developments had been completed in the previous six years and were at 85 percent occupancy. Two of those developments are based on the Smith’s Marketplace model.

“We understand the dynamics that particular model brings to a shopping center development concept, what types of tenancies seem to work with that concept,” Barnett told council. “So being the end user, we have some understanding about our business that can help lure people in that may otherwise be skeptical of this site or this community.”

Burgess’ latest information is that Smith’s is still on track for a May opening, nearly a year before NADG’s proposed opening in early 2015 and several months before Smith’s initial projection of Thanksgiving next year.

“That’s part of the reason we’ve had some road closures and other things, to give them the ability to get these things out of the way before it gets too cold, with the hopes of still hitting that date,” Burgess said.