Support For Hotel/Conference Center



I am writing to express my strong support for adoption of the proposed County Ordinance 695, and the effort to bring an 86-room hotel and conference center to the 20th Street extension. 

Both the hotel and the conference center have been long identified priorities, dating at least to the time I arrived and became involved in economic development issues 10 years ago.  The Tourism Strategic Plan from February 27, 2018 is typical. Under the Top Ten Priority Action Items Requiring Staff Time, #5 is:  

“Aggressively continue to explore hotel development incentive options, identify desirable locations for future development (particularly full-service hotel), prepare hotel investor/developer pitch package, create targeted list, and meet with potential developers/operators.”

This is exactly what our economic development team has been doing, in spite of many frustrations along the way.  On organizing the Tourism Implementation Task Force, we identified early on that in fact many of the Tourism Strategic Plan action items will not be practical to implement until such time as we have accommodations to house visitors.  

For these reasons, I was very excited to hear that we had finally landed a concrete proposal. More so on hearing that we were able to entice the hotel operator to include a conference center in their plans, and that these plans were located downtown where we can benefit not only from providing visitors a place to stay, but in close proximity to our downtown shops and restaurants.  As I have said before, my biggest incentive for promoting tourism as an economic development component in Los Alamos is to increase the number of patrons for our local business operators. The synergy from locating a project like this one in the downtown area will be a driver for more retail and food options in the area, which will benefit all of us.

I understand that a good bit of the controversy over this proposed development is the County’s proposed LEDA contribution of the six lots on 20th Street, appraised at approximately $1.8 million.  On its face, this could appear to be a giveaway to the developer.  It should not, however. The developer came to the County willing to purchase the land required for their hotel project.  It was our request that they include a conference center component that we have identified as a priority.

In fact, since the $1.8 million value of the vacant land is the approximate price that the county had estimated a similarly sized conference center would cost to build and outfit, under this proposal, the County (and its taxpaying citizens) come out ahead.  The hotel operator has agreed to operate the center, saving the County an estimated $200,000 annually in O&M expenses. This proposal should be seen as a win for everyone involved.

The only possibly viable alternative I have seen presented for the conference center, expanding the meeting space at the golf course clubhouse, would seemingly come at a fairly close cost to the land exchange on 20th Street, except in hard cash.  And, I’m afraid such a proposal would bring the same arguments concerning, in that case the County spending between $1 and 2 million dollars on a facility run by one operator.  While it is an existing county facility, it would also leave the county ultimately responsible for the additional O&M costs of expanding a county building. Having been involved in discussions about expanding Atomic City Transit service from the White Rock Visitor Center to downtown Los Alamos during the weekends, I believe that the suggestion that there would be an easy transportation solution to bring conference goers from the gold course facility to downtown would ultimately prove unfeasible as well.  Even if that could be worked out, it would not substitute for having the center literally across Trinity Drive from Ashley Pond.

I realize that this one project won’t solve all the issues we have been working on over the past several years.  If one good has come from the discussions of the past couple of weeks, it is that we should continue to work on solutions to those issues as well.  MainStreet continues to look for solutions to the availability and affordability of downtown retail space, and during my tenure as chair of the LACDC, we made the availability of all types of housing a top priority.  Through the efforts of many, those efforts have begun to pay off, with – finally – a number of projects under way and still more under discussion with the goal of providing more and varied housing options to serve the needs of all parts of our community.  There is much work to be done, but that shouldn’t preclude work on projects such as this one.

No single project will serve all of our needs.  We should see all of these as pieces of a puzzle and considering that there are also many aspects that are out of our control, we must work on the ones we can affect.  The reason we have strategic planning is so that we can identify projects such as this that have been identified as important, and when we have the opportunity, pursue them!

Again, both a hotel and conference center have been identified as strategic goals in our economic development efforts.  The ability to include this conference center and its operations in the hotel project with the exchange of 2.5 acres of vacant land for a nine-million-dollar private investment in a much-needed facility is a win for Los Alamos residents and businesses as well.  I strongly encourage the Council to approve Ordinance 695 and direct staff to continue to follow proper due diligence during the planning phase of this development. Thank you for your consideration.

David Jolly