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Happy Birthday to the Railyard

The Railyard is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its opening this weekend.

It’s taken a while, but things are looking up at the 50 acres of city-owned land purchased in the mid-1990s for a sticker price of $21 million and many millions more dollars in debt-service costs.

Check out the Railyard at certain times – times that happen more and more often – and it’s a really bustling urban space.

Go to the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, any of the impressive and impressively diverse free concerts during the summer under the water tank or take in a movie with a beer at the Violet Crown. Private events in the Farmers Market pavilion, including weddings and quinceañeras, can be bigger than the concerts. El Museo Cultural is a funky, friendly space that hosts everything from theatrical drama to the great, experimental Currents New Media Festival.

Sometimes it’s hard to find a parking space at the Railyard. New apartments are now up and full. The Railyard Park looks better with age, as its plants spread into fullness.

All of these are good things. Development of the site was hard to envision during the dark days of the Great Recession, which hit at almost the exact time that the Railyard officially opened in 2008.

We had that giant hole, dug for a cinema that never got built and left to gape for years, before Violet Crown came along and filled that space wonderfully. The Market Station, the Railyard’s big commercial building, went bankrupt. The city bought part of Market Station for city offices – not exactly a use that makes Santa Fe more interesting, liveable, diverse or socially progressive – as a combination bailout/legal settlement. REI has anchored Market Station commercially, but the Flying Star restaurant didn’t make it.

The first residential development in the Railyard was a major misfire – impressive, but way-too-expensive, condo units were built when something that would provide housing for people who actually hold jobs downtown was what was needed and would have generated more activity in the neighborhood.

The Railyard has stuck to its guns on taking in locally owned businesses (other than REI and Violet Crown, from Austin originally, which really has evolved into a local business). It rejected potential tenants like Chipotle (when the chain was still sort of cool), even as spaces languished empty in Market Station, which should blossom now that key parts of the bankruptcy have been resolved.

Yes, there are art galleries in the Railyard. Outside of gallery owners, there probably weren’t many people saying that what this town really needed when the city government bought the property were more art galleries. But the galleries do look great and there’s plenty of space for other things.

This mixed bag, in the end, has become an important and attractive part of Santa Fe, a gathering spot beyond the Plaza, more locally oriented and with its own style. It’s something to be proud of.

Going forward, there are still gaps to fill and issues to deal with. The neighborhood next to the Railyard needs to be protected from overflow parking. The Railyard needs to be a place that remains first and foremost a place for Santa Fe residents, which will also make it more attractive to visitors looking for something authentic.

Those who conceived of the Railyard and pushed it along, starting back in Mayor Debbie Jaramillo’s 1990s administration, deserve thanks and congratulations for what’s happened so far.

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