Entrepreneurs, landlords and residents gather Tuesday night to discuss issues surrounding the local business environment. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
What is the secret to a successful business in Los Alamos? Does zoning or lower rents or more customers help? These questions were discussed during a town hall meeting Tuesday night.
The town hall, which was held in Los Alamos County Council chambers as well as on Zoom, was moderated by Los Alamos County Councilor David Reagor. Councilors Denise Derkacs and Sara Scott also participated. It featured two panels – one had local landlords Shannon C’deBaca, Philip Kunsberg and Joe Arellano as well as Metzger’s General Manager David Jolly. The other panel featured Pet Pangaea Owner Cyndi Wells, Village Arts Owner Ken Nebel, Boomerang Owner Anna Dillane along with Teddy Sue Mooday of REMAX First.
Another featured speaker was Matt Miles, who spoke about the status of his two downtown properties: the former CB FOX and Reel Deal buildings.
“The plan for CB FOX was originally to clean it up and lease it to the lab and leave some retail on the ground floor facing main street … the acquisition of the Reel Deal Theater was similar but more oriented toward office space either to the lab or a subcontractor,” Miles said.
When asked what his current plan is, Miles said he doesn’t have one. In fact, he isn’t focusing on Los Alamos at this time.
“I’m looking for a way forward, so I am all ears when it comes to what to do with those buildings,” he said.
Reagor asked why the laboratory is the preferred customer.
“In the commercial real estate world, the value of the lease … the lease is what predicates the value of the building, it depends entirely on the credit quality on the tenant and of course the lab has all the credit quality,” Miles said. “ … anything less than that if you have local small shop … (or) quasi retail … you have to assess those but normally they can’t pay the same lease rate and that lease rate is required when you go in and do a significant upgrade …”
Local landlords weighed in on the proposed retail pedestrian overlay zone, which will be considered during the Aug. 10 regular County Council meeting. The opinion seemed unanimous among the panelists: it is a bad idea.
“The lab subsidies are the engine that drives our ability to be able to charge lower rates for retail. Without those lab leases we cannot afford the lease rate we offer small businesses,” C’deBaca said. “I think the engine of Los Alamos economy is small business, but I think this ordinance is way, way wrong for Los Alamos.”
“To the best of my knowledge adoption of this ordinance especially without further study would be against the advice of the County planning staff, against the advice of the County attorneys and against the advice of the zoning professionals engaged by the County to conduct a complete review of the County zoning code,” he said. “Further, it would be against the recommendations of the County organizations most involved and committed to the improvement of the downtown – the Mainstreet Futures Group and the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation.”
Arellano suggested another option to assist local businesses.
“If we really want to help retail, I would propose we create a program at the County to help retailers by subsidizing new employees’ salaries,” he said. “I am sure we could find some way to take LEDA money … and help retailers pay new employees’ salaries one month or two months.”
Jolly also touched on employees, which he said is the top issue for any local business.
“As our business goes, and I think most every businessperson in town would tell you right now the top three challenges for any business are staffing, staffing and staffing,” Jolly said. “It’s been that way here for a long time. It’s great that we do have in the housing component … some affordable housing being built in town because that’s really important for Los Alamos although every kind of housing is important right now.”
From the business perspective, Wells touched on the major issues local entrepreneurs face.
There is a lack of retail habitat, Wells said, explaining that this includes commercial space size restrictions or buildings not being up to code or the County being limited in available land for retail space.
“There are things that could be looked at more on a basis of what does a business need to function, and we need suitable retail habitat,” Wells said.
There also is a lack of ownership. She pointed out that the County has limited land to offer, and its available land can sit empty.
“We need more opportunities for ownership of property,” Wells said. “Then you have private ownership, you can put money into things … the community will look nicer for that.”
Nebel spoke about the issue he has dealt with, which is the construction project on DP Road, where his business is located.
He emphasized the importance of having a comprehensive and thought-out plan when it comes to construction.
Still, Nebel said, “We have a lot of wonderful connections with community members and the LACDC, they have been very good keeping us informed …”
Dillane wondered how the County could help the business community – particularly through LEDA.
“We do need help,” she said. “There is a system in town that is challenged …”
Mooday, who was the last panelist to speak, asked how how the County might assist local business – particularly with aging buildings.
“We do need small business,” Mooday said.