Q&A: Council Weighs In On Potential Impact Of Manhattan Project National Historical Park

A banner is placed near Central Avenue/Trinity Drive to welcome the MPNHP Field Team arriving Tuesday in Los Alamos for three day of meetings, tours and to gather input from the public. Photo by Chris Clark/ladailypost.com

Staff Report

With the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Field Team arriving in Los Alamos Tuesday, members of the Los Alamos County Council took time to answer questions regarding the potential impact the Park may have on the local community.

MPNHP Q&A

Council Chair Kristin Henderson:

LADP: Why do you think the Park is going to be significant for Los Alamos?
 
Henderson: I think it is an opportunity to evolve another industry in Los Alamos – tourism.
 
LADP: Will the County set performance goals that inform the community on the impacts of the Park? 
 
Henderson: I want the Park to be embraced and beloved by the town. The more input we can have from as many people as possible about the evolution of the Park, the better. I understand that having an appreciated Park is very much a goal of the National Park Service, too.
 
LADP: How can the County create an environment that meets the needs of Park visitors and encourages tourists to come to Los Alamos?
 
Henderson: With careful thought and consideration.
 
LADP: How can the County help retail and other businesses leverage the opportunities of the Park?
 
Henderson: I think it is important not only that the future Visitor Center is downtown, but that it is on the downtown side of the Trinity Drive. The more convenient it is for visitors to walk to where they want to go, and to wander by our stores and restaurants – and future stores and restaurants – the better.
 
LADP: How can the County help to make sure the contributions of Los Alamos citizens during the Manhattan Projects are best represented?
 
Henderson: The Council views this as a high priority, and to that end, we have established a Council-led Citizen committee to reach out to our local businesses as well as the community at large. I would encourage people to weigh in with their hopes as well as their concerns.
 
LAPD: How will tourists be integrated into our community so that there is minimal disruption to citizens?
 
Henderson: I think we have to think about a lot of things – traffic flow, parking, walking patterns. There are many instances of other communities that have successfully incorporated new National Parks in their midst; we need to emulate the best ones. We are just at the beginning of this process – as is the National Park Service and the DOE in working out their own logistics – but that is part of what the Council – Citizen Committee will be working on.
 
LADP: How will the Park impact spending on Capital Improvement Projects?
 
Henderson: It very well might impact Capital Improvement Projects. Leveraging this opportunity in the best possible way for the community as an economic development effort is the top priority of this Council. I also think we can leverage private entities and possibly public-private partnerships; but all of this remains to be seen.
 
LADP: What would it take for Los Alamos to be the “gateway” to the three parks in our region?
 
Henderson: In some ways, we naturally are, regardless, just geographically. If we can combine a Visitor Center that highlights all three Parks, that will help. Much of that is not our decision, but we certainly are encouraging the savings to the NPS of that kind of plan.
 
LADP: How can the community benefit as the center of three great national parks/preserves?
 
Henderson: All three Parks have different things to offer, and may well appeal each to a different audience, but in all cases may bring economic development opportunities this way with their own visitors if they were to spend time in Los Alamos, too.

Council Vice Chair David Izraelevitz:

LADP: Why do you think the Park is going to be significant for Los Alamos?

Izraelevitz: The Park will solidify Los Alamos as a tourism destination. The presence of three parks in close proximity will likely increase visitation substantially, supporting more services like restaurants and shops, and will help support additional hotel capacity, which we need for many different reasons.

LAPD: Will the County set performance goals that inform the community on the impacts of the Park?

Izraelevitz: We have not discussed as a Council specific goals or metrics. However, we are likely to have visitation numbers similar to the numbers that Bandelier publishes, and some reflection in lodger’s tax and GRT collections. These can be used as metrics that we can apply against these goals.

LADP: How can the County create an environment that meets the needs of Park visitors and encourages tourists to come to Los Alamos?

Izraelevitz: The County needs to work with the park service to provide basic services, such as transportation, restrooms, signage. An attractive downtown, like the new Central Ave improvements, Ashley Pond Park, the new nature center will all help to make a visit to Los Alamos one that will be memorable.

LADP: How can the County help retail and other businesses leverage the opportunities of the Park?

Izraelevitz: By setting the basic infrastructure, like a walkable downtown, and adequate transportation and facilities. Ultimately, however, it will take the creativity and investment of the business community to take full advantage of these opportunities.

LADP: How can the County help to make sure the contributions of Los Alamos citizens during the Manhattan Projects are best represented?

Izraelevitz: We already do a lot in this area by supporting the historical museum, library exhibits and programs, etc. I look forward to adding to that mix the incredible skills that the park service brings in telling the story of the Manhattan Project.

LADP: How will tourists be integrated into our community so that there is minimal disruption to citizens?

Izraelevitz: This is an important issue. The recently composed citizen committee will be part of the eyes and ears to understand the issues involved and how to mitigate what will no doubt be a great impact.

LADP: How will the Park impact spending on Capital Improvement Projects?

Izraelevitz: The new park is a priority for Council. We will likely want to use some county resources to help guide the development of the park in a direction that best supports our community and that may involve substantial funds. We have not discussed in detail where those funds might come from.

LADP: What would it take for Los Alamos to be the “gateway” to the three parks in our region?

Izraelevitz: Whether in a formal sense or not, Los Alamos will be central to all three parks. I think there is a compelling argument, financial, educationally, and logistically, for the three parks to share resources. Whether that will come to be is still to be determined.

LADP: How can the community benefit as the center of three great national parks/preserves?

Izraelevitz: Much of the focus of the recent capital projects and other investments by the county, have focused on improving the quality of life in Los Alamos, to benefit of current residents, but also to attract the best and brightest people and their families to our area. A strong tourist economy can help, by supporting additional restaurants, gift shops, hotels, conference meetings, etc. We will have to manage this impact carefully to make sure that we don’t lose the aspects of the community, like the small town feel, easy transportation, safe streets, and increasingly attractive downtown, as we try to increase the tourist economy.

Councilor Susan O’Leary shares her thoughts about the MPNHP:

The MPNHP creates a tourism trifecta for us –  a world class cultural site in Bandelier, an amazing pristine recreation area in the Valles Caldera, and a major historical attraction with the Manhattan Project Park. I think these three features; cultural, natural, and historical together are what we need to become a significant tourist destination. 
 
This is a hugely appropriate recognition of the achievements of the people involved in the Manhattan Project. This is also a very significant economic development opportunity for Los Alamos County. It’s not every day that someone decides to create a national park in your community. Los Alamos County clearly needs to be an active participant in making the most of this gift; and doing so in ways that create the most benefit to our citizens.
 
To do that, Los Alamos County needs to walk in the shoes of our tourists and do our part to make the tourist experience the best it can be. This means addressing tactical experiential things like parking and traffic management; and making sure our regulatory environment is one that encourages and supports existing and new businesses.
 
These are not trivial issues. Helping the Park reach its full potential, both for the National Park Service and for our community, will require county investment, focus and prioritization. Going forward, the County Council will need to factor the needs of the Park — what it’s going to take to make it the success it can be — into our decision making about capital improvement projects and other county initiatives.
 
Tourists mean increased spending in our local economy. It’s great for existing businesses; and the increased demand from tourists should bring increased supply in additional retail and restaurants. These things have been at the top of priority lists of current citizens for some time. Then, as our tourism base grows, there’s every opportunity to add high altitude recreation into that mix.
 
I think this is the best way for Los Alamos County to truly diversify its business base over the long run. In the best case, the tourists will help support amenities that will make Los Alamos County better for those of us who live here, while broadening our economic base by creating jobs and more business activity in our local economy.
 
Note: The MPNHP Field Team will meet with the community 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at Fuller Lodge. Refreshments will be served.
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