Put in your two cents on SFUAD campus

Now’s the time to speak up if you want a say on what happens with the Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus.

The city has undertaken a monthslong project to gather public comment and designs for use of the city-owned, 64-acre site that for-profit Laureate Education, operator of SFUAD, is leaving come June 30.

The city bought the property after the College of Santa Fe folded in 2009, borrowing $29.5 million from the state Finance Authority to do so. The city still has annual debt service payments of about $2.2 million – covered by lease payments by Laureate in the past – for the next 17 years.

So city government has a lot of reasons to come up with a new plan for the property, pretty much smack dab in the middle of town off St. Michael’s Drive.

Arguments over city purchase of the property and the experiment with a for-profit, four-year school with dorms – which, by the way, students and faculty seemed to love until the closure announcement about a year ago left many hurt and in the lurch – are beside the point. The question is what happens now.

The city is launching The Midtown Campus Project and the first part is a “collection phase,” through Feb. 21. Residents are encouraged to go online at santafenm.gov and click on the big project button at the bottom of the page to find information about the planning process and the campus property.

Residents will be able submit ideas and express their priorities for what they’d like to see the campus become. Surveys are scheduled to be available online between Feb. 17-20. You can also sign up to be a more active, in-person participant.

At City Hall, the idea of housing – we apparently are talking apartments here – along with trying to attract some kind of educational institution to the campus seem to the starting points for discussion.

The city already has an overlay zoning district that would allow apartments, including multi-story apartment buildings, on the campus.

What happens with the idea of this kind of development in a town where there’s not nearly enough affordable housing, but apartments often are considered something akin to penal colonies when proposed anywhere near existing neighborhoods may be the biggest point of debate.

The campus does provide an opportunity to build something that’s not really in anyone’s backyard and on something of a blank canvas. The trick will be convincing people a dense housing project won’t become a ghetto, and instead will be an attractive and active urban neighborhood and community asset.

Having a school anchor new development would be ideal. UNM is sniffing around the project.

The campus, of course, has some unusually attractive amenities – a fully professional movie studio that most recently hosted the “Longmire” television series, a wonderful, up-to-date cinema that’s been an art film bastion for years and even a new recording studio. Too bad George Lucas already set up shop overlooking the San Francisco Bay.

The Midtown Campus Project also includes a “visioning phase” running from later this month through early April. Five design teams, to be recruited by the Santa Fe Art Institute and each paid a $5,000 stipend, will be asked to “create a visual and written representation based on guidelines developed during the collection phase.”

The public will then be called upon again, to comment on the concepts that come out of the visioning phase both online and during three public input sessions.

So go online now and make yourself heard. At this point, the campus is both a burden – that $2.2 million a year our government owes – and an opportunity. Santa Fe must make the best of it.

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