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DOT Wants Private Developer To Build Transit Center on State Land in S.F.

By Barry Massey/
Associated Press
      SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson's administration is proposing that private developers finance and build a transit hub for commuter rail and a new office building for the Transportation Department on state-owned land near downtown Santa Fe.
    Those are elements of a big ticket urban development project the department is promoting in a community with sky high real estate prices.
    The project carries an estimated budget of $90 million, but ultimately developers could spend millions more depending on the scope of their plans.
    The proposal calls for a mix of residential housing, retail shops and commercial outlets on the 25 acres where the department has its headquarters — about 1.5 miles from the city's historic plaza.
    The department proposes that a private developer pick up the tab for the design and construction of a 300,000-square-foot office building to house 900 workers, a parking garage for 900 vehicles and a "multi-modal transportation facility'' that will serve as a terminal for commuter rail that the governor has proposed between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
    The transit station also must handle other forms of transportation — from bicycles to bus and shuttle services needed to get train passengers to other locations in Santa Fe.
    The state is offering the use of its 25 acres to a developer in exchange for the private financing. The amount spent on the project will offset lease payment obligations to the state. In the future, it's possible the state could get a share of the income generated by the developer from private operations housed on the state land.
    The agency has issued a request for proposals from developers. They have until November to submit offers and plans.
    The project already has attracted plenty of interest. Several dozen people — contractors and others — packed a room at the department headquarters this week when agency officials fielded questions from potential bidders.
    The project will thrust state government into the business of urban planning — with the proposed development centered on mass transit and commuter rail.
    Asking private developers to foot the bill for the project was primarily an economic decision, said Toby Martinez, project manager for DOT, in an interview.
    "Like many state agencies that are in need of replacing obsolete buildings or adding additional space, we don't have the financial ability to fund that,'' Martinez said. "But we do realize, given the current situation we find ourselves financially, that we are sitting on valuable assets.''
    A rail line runs along the eastern boundary of the department's 25-acre site, which is the near the intersection of two major roads and highways through Santa Fe.
    Martinez said commuter rail service between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is expected to start operating in the fall of 2008. The department wants the new office building and transportation hub completed by August 2008.
    Many details of the proposal remain undecided. For example:
    _The length of the lease for use of the state land will depend on the final agreement reached between the developer and the department.
    _Whether the proposed transportation hub and train station will be the final commuter rail stop. Santa Fe plans to redevelop old railyard property, which is nearby and has been the northern terminus of an 18-mile rail corridor from the city southeast to Lamy. The state has purchased the corridor from the Santa Fe Southern Railway. Martinez said a shuttle or light rail service possibly could run from the proposed transit hub to the railyard property.
    The department also proposes a separate land deal in the Santa Fe area, which is linked to the larger transit project. The agency owns 42 acres at the southern edge of the community — the location of its district office operations. The department wants a private developer to provide a comparable site in another location and build new district office and maintenance facilities. The developer would get ownership of the state's 42 acres — land that's not too far from residential subdivisions and a proposed commercial development involving a Super Wal-Mart, which is stirring controversy in Santa Fe.
    The department plans to move a vehicle maintenance facility, a traffic sign shop, as well as materials and signal labs from the current headquarters location to the proposed new district office site. Moving those will free space for the proposed transit hub-office building development.