The Los Alamos County Tourism Implementation Task Force fully supports LA County Ordinance 695 and the proposed development of a hotel and conference center on the 20th Street extension in downtown Los Alamos.
The Tourism Implementation Task Force was created in February 2018 by Council to implement the County’s Tourism Strategic Plan. This plan was written by the County’s Tourism Work Group with Design Workshop. The Plan was adopted by Council on February 27, 2018. The four focus areas of the strategic plan were identified as:
- Create and Market an inviting community
- Increase the capture of visitor dollars
- Enrich our attractions and downtowns & celebrate the natural beauty of our area
- Operate with intentional leadership, public and private investment and partnerships
On page ii of the Strategic Plan, the top five priorities listed for the County to begin focus are:
- Increase lodging supply (emphasis added)
- Modify institutional structure
- Make marketing efforts more effective
- Enhance guest experiences
- Improve community quality for residents, businesses, and LANL
The very first priority listed is to increase lodging supply. The proposed Townplace Suites project by TNJLA, LLC is the first hotel project seriously proposed in Los Alamos in several years, and this particular proposal includes a conference/event center accommodating a minimum of 250 guests, another recommendation of the strategic plan. The proposed project is also located at 20th Street and Trinity Drive, identified in the SAG 2012 report as the optimal “area of focus” for such a project (within walking distance to downtown restaurants and businesses). The downtown location will encourage hotel and conference center guests to utilize our local retail shops and restaurants, in addition to adding much needed lodging to encourage longer visitor stays and consequently increase visitor spending in Los Alamos.
A conference/event center has also been separately pursued by the County for a number of years. Capital funding requests to the state to fund such a project have been very close to the amount of the LEDA application for this project, and the estimated O&M costs for such a center have been estimated at $200,000 a year. Those cost estimates have been made previously, unrelated to this proposal. Using these figures, over the ten-year payout of the proposed TNJLA project — as a simple comparison — savings to the County are around twice the value of the land exchange contemplated (not including the ongoing O&M costs to the County past the ten-year payout for this project). In addition, the land contemplated for trade was improved and marketed by the County some two years ago, and still sits vacant, meaning the estimated $1.8 million value is overly optimistic.
There has been some controversy concerning the use of LEDA on this proposal, when it wasn’t offered to local businesses that may be interested in the site. By state law, LEDA is not available for the types of businesses that have been previously considered. This current proposed project would help all local businesses though, by bringing additional customers into the downtown area. One purpose of the Tourism Strategic Plan, after all, is to increase the capture of visitor dollars by our local businesses.
Several questions were also raised during the August 27 meeting about whether this proposal would be the “highest and best use” of the 20th Street property. The Task Force believes that an 86-room extended stay hotel that brings out-of-town visitors to the heart of the business district is an optimal use of that property. This conclusion was also reached by the SAG study in 2012. The land in question was donated to Los Alamos County some 30 years ago for the purpose of economic development. Infrastructure was put in place in 2017 and the land has been marketed, without success, since then. Further, the conceptual plan with the hotel itself seems to maximize the scenic canyon views of the property. It’s hard to think of a better use from that standpoint either.
The Tourism Implementation Task Force was chartered by the County Council to implement the recommendations of the Tourism Strategic Plan adopted by Council on February 27, 2018. During this year’s budget hearings, the Task Force identified the creation of a position or office to be responsible and accountable for the County’s tourism efforts as critical to the successful implementation of the Plan. Council asked the Task Force to develop a job description and calculate ROI on the position to justify its creation. County Manager Burgess indicated at the time that, in his opinion, the position would not be feasible until we were able to attract a new hotel and use subsequent lodger’s tax as a revenue stream. The Task Force is working on such documentation to prepare for next year’s budget cycle. If Council chooses not to proceed, especially now that we have finally secured a developer wanting to bring a hotel to Los Alamos, and invest $9 million to do so, it is hard for the Task Force to see a path forward for this strategic plan.
Los Alamos has a reputation as being a difficult place to bring a new business. It’s well documented that the County has been seeking a first-class hotel and event center for at least the past 10 years. The Task Force sees a risk that, should the Council choose to pass on the TNJLA project, other developers will be less inclined to invest in even the soft costs to prepare a proposal, since they will see the likelihood of any proposal being accepted as very low. Potential developers will also be wary of staff representations of what the County is looking for, based on the outcome of this proposal. For this reason, the Task Force has little confidence that another opportunity will be forthcoming in the foreseeable future.
At the same time, a new hotel and conference center in our County will likely draw more business and restaurant interest here, especially for those looking to capitalize on the increase in visitors and events held here.
This proposal is a first-class proposal. It accomplishes two goals set out in the Tourism Strategic Plan, and in every economic development plan adopted by the County over the past 10 years. It seems easy to find arguments to wait for something just a little better, but that will be the case with any proposal. In reality, there have been no better offers, and we see little reason to believe we will see another one as attractive and beneficial to Los Alamos. As Councilor Izraelevitz said during the August 27 meeting – “Let’s not make perfect the enemy of good!”
We appreciate your consideration.
Los Alamos Tourism Implementation Task Force