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Hotel And Conference Center Move Closer To Fruition As Council Approves Amendments To Ordinance

on October 3, 2019 - 12:53pm
A group of citizens line up to share their thoughts on the proposed land grant to TNJLA during the Tuesday night Council meeting. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
 
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post

In a 5-2 vote Tuesday, Los Alamos County Council approved to amend an ordinance to adopt an economic development project with TNJLA, LLC, pending a public hearing.

By amending the ordinance, TNJLA LLC is one step closer to receiving 2.6 acres of County-owned land at 20th Street, where the company plans to build an 86-room extended stay hotel as well as a conference center that would accommodate between 250-300 people.

A public hearing on the amended ordinance will be held Oct. 15 during the Los Alamos County Council work session.

Councilors Randall Ryti and Antonio Maggiore voted against the amendments to the ordinance.

After the Council agreed to amend the ordinance, TNJLA LLC owner Tushar Patel told the Los Alamos Daily Post, “We’re happy with the decision and we look forward to working with the community to provide a much-needed facility and being citizens of the County.”

The County granting TNJLA land has been a controversial issue. The ordinance was originally discussed by Council during its Aug. 27 meeting. Many citizens weighed in on the land grant and the response to the proposed project was mixed. Ultimately, Council voted to table the issue until Tuesday’s meeting to allow for more public feedback and to receive more information on the project.

The grant would include all six parcels of land, valued at $1,825,000 and includes the value of the SmartHouse land, which appraised as vacant is $1,400,000.

In an earlier article in the Los Alamos Daily Post, Council Chair Sara Scott explained the County would grant the land because “When the County relayed the long-standing interest in a conference center  … the developer worked with the franchiser to obtain a waiver to allow the construction of a collocated conference center, developed a Local Economic Development Act (LEDA) proposal to help support the inclusion of a conference center in the project, and submitted it for review…”

She added in the article that the expected return on the County’s investment would be about $3.5  million in taxes (this is the local portion of taxes only and estimated using comparison to similar businesses in the County), a conference center in the downtown area, and the operation and maintenance of the conference center.

During a Tuesday night’s Council meeting, Economic Development Administrator Joan Ahlers highlighted some of the changes that were made to the ordinance. The biggest change was that rather than requiring TNJLA operate the hotel and conference center for 10 years, the requirement was extended to 15 years.

A big concern for Council was the limited amount of parking available for the hotel and conference center. Economic Consultant Jim Colson, who is working with TNJLA on the project, said there are conversations between Los Alamos Public Schools, which has its administrative offices next to the land parcels, and TNJLA to come to agreement on parking. Colson said the idea is to have reciprocal parking rights between the two entities. However, nothing is finalized.

Despite the changes to the ordinance, Ryti said he still had concerns about the project and couldn’t support amending it.  

“This project has a lot of pros and a lot of cons to it. The one thing that most concerns me is the unquantified detriment to the local businesses,” he said.

He pointed out that a study commissioned in 2017 regarding the need for hotels in Los Alamos County predicted that there would be a decrease in occupancy for hotels.

Ryti added while the proposal is attractive in many ways, he didn’t feel he could support it without more definitive information on the impacts the new hotel would have on existing hotel businesses.

Maggiore did not state Tuesday night his reasons for opposing amending the ordinance; however, during the Aug. 27 meeting, he said he was skeptical that a hotel and conference center were the best uses for the property and he also questioned the plans for parking for the two facilities.

A few business owners shared Ryti’s concerns about the impacts the new hotel would have.

During public comment, HIXL Holding President Brian Patrick Martin spoke about his concerns of the effects this grant would have on the Holiday Inn Express, which his company just purchased.

“We have certain concerns about the proposed project and its impact on the nonsubsidized lodging facilities in this marketplace. These concerns include negative impacts on employment, and diminution of both real estate and business value,” Martin said.

He added, “If the town wishes to subsidize a new private facility … we believe appropriate action should be taken to limit the economic damage on        existing stakeholders.”

These suggested actions include commissioning a study that would address the impacts the new hotel will have on existing businesses prior to approving the land grant.

Martin added if the study concludes these impacts would be negative, but council agrees to the land grant anyway, then it should pass a financial package to mitigate the damages that current lodging businesses would experience.

Not everyone believed the land grant to TNJLA would be harmful.

 “There’s been discussions  of the conference center for 20 years or more … in my past public service, I attended conferences in many publicly-owned conference centers in almost every county and many cities in the state … most of these were subsidized by the county or city government … seems to me that  if we want a modern, commercially standard conference center this is how we are going to get one.” James Hall, a local real estate developer and former County Councilor, said. “It represents an opportunity. It also represents significantly less risk to the County. Instead of investing almost twice as much to build one and then putting up with ongoing operating costs that we aren’t liable to recover - that will be taken care of by a private firm who will then pay property taxes and gross receipt taxes … in my opinion, this brings a badly needed asset to this community. And it lessens our risk to our taxpayer.”

Scott also said she believed the project would be advantageous to the County.

“As I walked around met with folk last year … One of top of five, if not top three things I heard form the community was a strong desire for more restaurants, shops, and a bit more economic diversification … therefore that’s why I would suggest that if we want to achieve this … we need to do things in a strategic way and we need to take a multi-prong approach.”

These approaches include a focus on housing and business environments. Another item to address is “to get more folks to stay here and spend money in our community,” Scott said.

The proposed conference center, she said, would help retain people and generate revenue in the County.


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