Concerns About Limiting The Number of Offices On First Floors Of Downtown Businesses


Open Letter To County Council

I have been following the Los Alamos County Councilors ongoing conversation about the possibility of limiting the number of offices on the first floors of downtown businesses. The fact that this is being discussed without extensive research is creating deep concerns in the community.

A developer who I have been working with for more than a year has put his plans in Los Alamos on hold because of concerns about the direction the County seems to be moving with this issue. This issue is impacting future investments in Los Alamos negatively. The proposal seeks to solve a complex problem with a simple fix. The problem is that the fix makes several assumptions that are simply not true.

Assumption one: If landlords cannot rent first floor offices to lab contractors rents will come down.
Fact: fixing up our buildings take time and money. Fixed costs can average as high as $15 per square foot with new HVAC, build outs, roofs, electrical and tenant acquisition. Add any debt load and the break even point hits $20 fairly quickly. Those costs are set by factors outside the pockets of tenants.

Assumption two: If offices were prohibited in first floor spaces, then retail interests would fill those spaces. Fact: Los Alamos has a very limited trade area. Few folks have the financial resources or interest in years of developing a customer base. The net based stores are difficult competition to all retail in this era. We need to help existing businesses survive and thrive. Stable successful businesses help attract and nourish new businesses. Shiny new buildings do not attract new businesses half as much as a county FULLY and visibly committed to existing retail.

There are other assumptions. However, these two are the ones I hear most often. Please, I urge you to table this discussion and embark on some listening tours and expend some much needed energy and resources towards existing retail enterprises. Make it easier to do business in Los Alamos. There are hundreds of ways to do this. Any decisions you make without careful unbiased fact finding will result in some unexpected consequences. The rumors circulating outside Los Alamos County have already done damage to several projects in development.

Shannon Cde Baca