The Santa Fe Complex, a combination science/arts think tank and business incubator, will close on Friday, ending a four-year city-subsidized economic development experiment.
After putting $340,000 into the project, the city in March sent the complex a letter expressing its concerns about the nonprofit’s own revenue production and denying payment on a $25,000 invoice, although the group’s contract with the city remains in place, said Kate Noble, special projects administrator with the city Economic Development Division.
But Santa Fe Complex founding director Stephen Guerin said the city funding is gone for good.
“They wanted the complex to be much more centralized and they wanted a more traditional management style,” Guerin said. “We’re very proud of what we accomplished with the city.”
The city of Santa Fe approved a final $100,000 in funding for the complex in September, but paid the organization only $25,000 since then. It was a second $25,000 payment that was refused.
“That was considered a transitional year,” said Guerin. “We were supposed to be self-supporting.” He acknowledged that goal has not been met.
Noble said the city still believed in the complex.
“The basic directive for us was that they generate enough revenue to be self-sufficient,” she said. “We were not going to pay the invoice because of the lack of progress. We said, ‘Please update us if you make more progress.’”
A fund-raiser generated just $8,000, she added.
“We felt that wasn’t satisfactory progress,” Noble said. “We didn’t say, ‘We’re pulling funding.’ The contract is still there.”
The idea of the Santa Fe Complex was to bring together artistically inclined scientists and scientifically inclined artists to collaborate, with the idea of generating ideas or projects that would attract contracts, business and private funding.
Some of the projects that the complex has highlighted in the past included helping Venice, Italy, minimize wake damage in its canals; a high-tech sand box used to simulate wildfires; a project that helped San Francisco track young people in the mental health system and a plan to help the military deal with parts replacement on the battlefield.
The complex also has hosted a quirky schedule of public events — concerts, workshops, lectures, art and video exhibits, even game nights.
The Santa Fe Complex was launched with an initial city infusion of $165,000 so the nonprofit could move into two buildings on Agua Fria Street near the Santa Fe Railyard. Rent was $7,000 per month. To cut expenses, the complex later moved to 1807 Second St., Suite 107.
In 2010, the city approved another $150,000 for Santa Fe Complex under a contract stipulating it achieve a series of goals including 23,000 employment man-hours at an average wage of $50 per hour, 20 public lectures, seven public workshops and at least one international conference.
Noble, in an August memo to the City Council, said the complex up to that point had surpassed the contract requirements. She reported that its project man-hours for 2010 were more than 29,000; direct contracts to the complex for the year were $389,000; and “direct or affiliated projects” generated $1.2 million.
Noble said in the August memo that the complex had been developing revenue sources and was expected to become self-sufficient at the end of the third and final year of the city contract, but that its progress would be evaluated before a second $25,000 payment for the year would be approved.
She reported then that the complex’s “unique blend of community events and outreach and business development have worked well,” engaging students and young workers “as part of a pipeline that goes from school to training to career.”
Wednesdau, Guerin maintained the complex created $1 million in revenue on projects every year, plus the equivalent of 10 jobs per year, and “a lot of education courses.” The complex also attracted memberships and charged event fees. Additionally, it received some National Science Foundation grants, he said.
Santa Fe Complex sent three local interns to Venice to study water traffic, Guerin added. It also spearheaded a study of mobile phone apps tracking Boston street bumps.
“They kept cutting us 20-30 percent every year,” Guerin said of the city funding. “They have their priorities in other places.”
Santa Fe City Councilor Patti Bushee said she was saddened by the closure but not surprised.
“I just don’t know that they ever had a whole lot of day-to-day business sense,” she said, adding, “That was my concern from the start. Lots of big ideas were generated, but the city of Santa Fe was the only funding. My line of questioning to them was, ‘How do you plan to sustain yourself?’ I really had some concerns that it was not a sustainable venture.
“It’s not to disregard the efforts that were made. I just always wondered if it would last very long.”
Noble said she was sad to see the complex fold.
“I’m really heartbroken,” she said, “because I think the Santa Fe Complex had a lot of good ideas.”
The complex will close Friday after hosting a one-year birthday party for its Center for Integrative Research and Exhibition showcasing the works of contributing artists, writers, musicians, thinkers and speakers from 6-10 p.m., all at the Second Street location. It also will mark the closing of its “Ghost in the Armour” arts show.
Guerin, a scientist specializing in complex adaptive systems and head of said the RedfishGroup consulting company, was especially grateful to the volunteers who kept the project going after the money began to dwindle.
“It’s a really strong thank you to the community,” Guerin said. “We think other things will come along.’