Trinity Site project: Bent but not broken

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Story places second in online poll

By Roger Snodgrass

The Trinity Site project ended the year with a flourish, but it was a rocky fall season.

The most recent Monitor online poll results on the top local story of the year found the developments surrounding Trinity Site solidly in second place.

It has been in prominent public view as both a troubling unresolved issue.  And as a centerpiece of county enterprise.

On Nov. 12, the Los Alamos County Council and the school board approved the documents that finalized lease agreements and property conveyances underlying the Trinity Site Revitalization Project and a major companion development at Airport Basin, now well underway.

Among other things, the agreements were assurances that Trinity Site would be vacated in the first half of next year, as demolition begins clearing the site for the more problematic matter of redevelopment.

Between 2006 and 2009, the county’s partner in redeveloping Trinity Site was the Boyer Company, which had a sole-source, exclusive contract to develop the site.

Of all the ups and downs the project encountered this year, the most dramatic was undoubtedly the demise of the county’s partnership with Boyer, announced formally at a council meeting at the end of September.

The handwriting that many had seen on the wall got a final reading. A Monitor headline summed it up, “Council pulls the plug on Boyer Co.”

It had been coming to a head for several months.

There were intensive discussions between the community and council and council and Boyer Co.

At an August session of the county council, when some councilors thought Boyer Co. might simply withdraw, there was one last effort to extend the relationship.

“I really want to see this done because of the quality of the community,” said Boyer Co. representative Wade Williams. “We need to roll up our sleeves and work together to see if we can come up with a plan. If not, we’ll step aside. We’ve not performed.”

Williams blamed the delays on construction costs and the cost of the land, among other factors.

On another occasion Williams blamed economic conditions. “The biggest problem for us was getting a business model for the tenant. National tenants have really pulled back their capital plans,” he said.

While a citizens advisory committee still encouraged council not to rule out Boyer Co., one of its members George Chandler made a sharper accusation. Chandler said he thought Williams’ previous relationship with Smith’s Food and Drug Centers, Inc. had contributed to the delays.

In July Smith’s Food and Drug Centers, the leading candidate to become the anchor tenant of the Trinity Site in the Boyer plan, had purchased the Mari-Mac shopping center, calling into doubt their commitment to driving development across the street at the Trinity Site.

“Smith’s took advantage of Boyer’s commitment to string along the project,” Chandler said, “always appearing on the verge of an agreement, but never quite making it, until suddenly it became possible for them to purchase the Mari-Mac shopping center at a very low price.” His dissenting position would become a unanimous position on the advisory committee when the ties were dissolved a few weeks later.

On Sept. 28, county councilors voted 6-1 to “discontinue exclusive negotiations with the Boyer Co. for the redevelopment of Trinity Site.” While reaffirming its determination to develop “competitive retail opportunities for Los Alamos,” council instructed county officials “to explore with interested and capable parties, including Boyer Co., further interest in developing a lifestyle center or other retail opportunities at the Trinity Site.”

In the aftermath of these developments, Tony Mortillaro, who led the negotiations with the Boyer Co. as assistant county administrator at that time, has moved up to the position of county administrator.

In an initial restructuring of his staff Mortillaro announced the creation of a new position for an “economic vitality administrator, to serve as a key member of the county administrator’s strategic development team.”

Mortillaro said he was following up suggestions from county council in a November planning session that the county administration have an individual dedicated to economic development.

The Trinity Site project will surely be high on his or her “to-do” list.