Letter To The Editor: Old Smith’s Better Choice For New Conference Center

By GEORGE HAGEDORN
Los Alamos

I read with interest the news that Marriott Hotels plans to build a hotel and conference center in town. In return the county will give them $1.6 million worth of land. The justification for giving away the land is the county gets a conference center and associated operating expenses.

This in light of having a large facility (old Smiths store) sitting vacant in the middle of what I call the commercial center of town. This site is close to restaurants, groceries, and entertainment, and has a large, mostly unused at this time, parking lot. I also think Smiths would be interested in selling the property for a good (low) price to someone who would remodel the old store into a conference center or build a new center. This would  generate business for the “new” Smiths store and removes the old property from their books to a non-competing entity. 

A conference center at this location would also increase the value of the old Hilltop House property, which could be used to build a new hotel. I am not sure who owns the Hilltop property, but I think the county has a vested interest in making the neighborhood attractive with a conference center to attract someone with deep pockets to develop the property, so it is an attractive entrance to Los Alamos.

A win-win situation is if the present “old Smiths” building can be remodeled verses torn down, thus saving the county demolition and construction costs for a new conference center. There would also be room in the existing building for other services and activities, such as bowling, indoor golf much like Topgolf, racket sports courts (pickle ball, racquetball, tennis), BMX track, roller rink, etc.

I have not read anything about parking requirements for an 80-room hotel and an additional 300 capacity conference center. The old Hilltop House hotel sits on about 2 acres of land. They had a few conference rooms, capacities I do not remember, as well as a 90-room hotel. As I remember, meetings at the hotel conference rooms resulted in a shortage of parking spaces. There are also 2, and possibly 3, exits from the old Smiths parking lot verses one from the 20th street area. This would help with traffic flow when 200+ vehicles are leaving at once after a meeting.

One last point. If the 20th street property is such a prize location, why not any offers, at least published.

Rather than use the facilities at hand and improving on them, the county seems to have a build and they will come attitude. The Blue Whale was sold with this promise. Other than having a parking lot that did not have the capacity for the traffic that events generated, the pool is a big drag on the county budget resulting in higher property taxes. To most towns with a population of 20,000 people, $1.6 million is a lot of money. So is maintaining an indoor Olympic sized swimming pool.