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Municipal Building won’t return to its original site

By Carol A. Clark

County Council voted Thursday evening to approve a site selection committee’s top choice of where to build the new Municipal Building.

In a 5-2 vote, council selected the Los Alamos Apartments property located east of the Bradbury Science Museum, downtown along Central Avenue.

The committee, chaired by local builder Stan Primak, was praised repeatedly Thursday evening by councilors, county staff and community leaders for its work in evaluating 25 possible sites.

“The committee is an excellent example of a broad-based, transparent, fair and inclusive community process aimed at informing the council’s ultimate decision. The process was very well publicized and afforded ample opportunity for the many different opinions in the community to be heard,” Executive Director Kevin Holsapple of the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation said.

The committee unanimously recommended two sites to the council last fall. Scoring slightly higher was the LA Apartments property, which the county already owns. The second site is private property just south of the apartment complex across Central Avenue owned by the Shannon Corporation.

Council Chair Mike Wismer and Councilor Robert Gibson supported constructing the building on its original site adjacent to Ashley Pond.

“Our center of government belongs on Ashley Pond — It’s our history; it’s our heritage; it’s our culture,” Wismer said.

Gibson urged his colleagues not to put the Municipal Building on a site with other more productive uses.

Councilor Mike Wheeler said he found it compelling that building a municipal building in the downtown area would stimulate economic development and asked how that claim could be justified. He wanted to know how building in either of the two recommended sites would stimulate economic growth.

“Economic benefit is not a function merely of the expenditures by people who would reside in the building. The economic potential relates to the foot traffic generated both by occupants and citizens coming and going to do business, as well as to the interest that the project will generate for private sector investment on adjacent properties,” Holsapple said. “LACDC has already been contacted by multiple parties expressing interest in investment on adjacent properties since the discussion of the downtown sites ensued.”

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle said it’s important to have the Municipal Building in the downtown area, however he would not support a downtown parking structure.

Public comment prior to the vote ran the gamut. One woman said she does not approve of Site 6 because it would better serve a performing arts center. She also does not approve of Site 13, saying the county already owns enough land. She preferred that the building go back to its original location.

Another audience member also advocated the original site. “You can rebuild and restore the Municipal Building where it was and do no harm or you can rebuild the Municipal Building anywhere else and do no good,” he said.

A resident who has lived in Los Alamos for 51 years said he thought the committee came up with the best two sites, adding that Site 13, owned by Shannon Corp., was the best and that the LA Apartments property should be turned into a park-like space for concerts and art shows.

Former Councilor Chris Chandler told councilors she’s sat in their position and recognizes the difficulty of their decision. It’s difficult when a committee spends a long time doing what they were asked to do and then after they make their recommendation are told never mind, she said. Chandler suggested placing the Municipal Building on Site 6 or Site 13 could lead to economic vitality but cautioned councilors not to think that a cascade of new retail business would occur anytime soon.

County Administrator Tony Mortillaro advised council members that the county had received an unsolicited proposal from Brent De Pont Investments last week. The proposal was for the site located where Hill Diner and other buildings reside on Trinity Drive. It was not considered at Thursday’s meeting.

Former Councilor Fran Berting said she had been in favor of that site but since it hadn’t been forwarded, she would opt for sites 6 and 13 with a slight preference for Site 13.

Councilor Ralph Phelps moved that council select Site 6. Site 6 was supported most by both the site selection committee and his correspondence from the public, although not by a lot over Site 13, he said. The public has made it clear they want the county to get capital costs under control, Phelps said and the overriding factor in his deciding the Municipal Building location was what would provide the least cost to the citizens.

Wheeler seconded the Site 6 motion.

“Site 6 came to the county by way of almost a fire sale … because of that it truly is the economic answer,” Wheeler said, adding that the county can continue negotiating with the Shannon Corp. to develop that property.

The placeholder budget for the new Municipal Building is set at $15.8 million with an additional $5 million in case there’s a need for a parking structure.