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Design Review Board wrestled with economic impact

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By Tom McDonald

When the Las Vegas Design Review Board took up the question of whether to approve Allsup’s Convenience Stores Inc.’s demolition and construction plan, preservation may have been a central concern, but simple economics was never far from the discussion.

“I love history,” board member Mack Crow said at one point in the 4-1/2 hour meeting last week, “but I don’t want history to destroy something good, and I think this will be good for the community.”

Crow was talking about the economic impact that a new Allsup’s would have on Las Vegas.

On the other side, however, board Chair Bob Mishler wanted to see specifics before approving such a project. “We have to see plans and specifications,” he said.

However, Allsup’s officials were opposed to such a requirement, saying that time is of the essence, and another trip to the board would create an unacceptable delay.

“We need to close this transaction,” said Allsup’s attorney Edwin Tatum.

Allsup’s wants to purchase three properties at or near the corner of Grand Avenue and Seventh Street, tear down the old Voda building and the now boarded-up Chevron gas station and convenience store, and build what Tatum referred to as a state-of-the-art, 3,981-square-foot store. Owner and CEO Lonnie Allsup picked out the site himself, Tatum said.

According to Tatum, the Clovis-based Allsup’s has 311 stores in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma, including 115 in New Mexico. The company employs 2,918 people in the three-state area.

In Las Vegas, those numbers translate to 54 employees at four stores, Tatum said. If the fifth store goes up, Brian Ashburn, vice president and chief operating officer, said there are no plans “at this time” to close the closest store at University and Grand.

“We’ve been looking for some time to increase our presence in Las Vegas,” Tatum said.

After hours of testimony — city attorney David Romero insisted on overseeing a “quasi-judicial proceeding” — about what the store would take away and put back into the community, board members grew reluctant to refuse to allow Allsup’s to move forward with its plans.

At first, board members asked whether Allsup’s could incorporate the old Voda building into its construction plans, but Lonnie Steward, CEO of Steward Builders, which contracts with Allsup’s to build its stores, said it would be cost prohibitive, increasing expenses two or three times what is currently being planned. At one point, Tatum added, “Mr. Allsup isn’t going to double his cost. That’s just not economically feasible.”

The board voted three times on Allsup’s request. Crow’s motion to approve Allsup’s plan as-is was defeated 4-2. The second motion by Alex Tafoya to approve the plan on the condition that a more specific plan to “complement the ... historic favor of the area” be brought back to the board for review. It was clearly opposed by Allsup’s officials, who said it would delay their plans too much. It was defeated 4-1.

The third motion, by Katharine Duke, was to approve the plan, including the demolition of the Voda building and the standard building, but to delegate the final decision on the store’s facade “with historic overtones” to the city’s Community Development office. The measure passed 4-2.

Mishler, the board’s chair, admitted that he didn’t have to vote on the measures, but he did anyway — voting no on both the first and third motions. He didn’t vote on Tafoya’s motion.