Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The evaluation panel charged with selecting a master developer to lead redevelopment of the city-owned Midtown Campus on Thursday got its first look at the proposals that came in response to a solicitation for “expressions of interest.”
The city received seven master developer responses from a diverse group that includes the U.S. Department of Energy, an international education provider, a Dallas-based real estate developer and two local developers.
One plan calls for creating a new urban center for Santa Fe, with parks, an amphitheater, a huge housing component, a tech center, and with the University of New Mexico proposing a new program in film and digital technology.
The Los Alamos Field Office of the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the DOE, is interested in the site mainly for office space or for engineering, light manufacturing and research.
“We felt from the very beginning that this was an amazing site,” Daniel Hernandez, who is leading the evaluation process for the city, said in an interview earlier in the week. “We put out a solicitation for great ideas and got responses from extremely qualified developers that really take Santa Fe’s values to heart.”
The city also received five responses from entities interested in serving as project developer, five proposals in the category of building owner/master lessee – including the UNM project – and four submissions in the building tenant category, including Santa Fe Sound Studios and the existing Garson Studios film studio.
But the evaluation panel will first focus on selecting one or more master developers to oversee either the entire project or a piece of it.
Hernandez said finalists are due to be selected by Jan. 15, but it’s likely to take months before the city enters into an exclusivity agreement with the master developer that will oversee what Mayor Alan Webber has called a “once-in-a-lifetime” project that has the potential to change the City Different.
$400 million plan
For example, Allan Affeldt, who is heading a team of 40 prominent Santa Feans, is among those who believes in the city’s potential to become a major technology hub in the Southwest.
“We have important lab presences and we have a tech presence, but we have no spin-offs from that,” he said. “We can change the reputation of this state to show its high-tech potential, because we’re not capturing that right now.”
But that’s just one component for the Central Park Santa Fe project proposed by Affeldt, who has already made a mark in New Mexico by bringing back Las Vegas’ historic Plaza and Castañeda hotels, and Lamy’s landmark Legal Tender bar and restaurant.
Affeldt’s plan goes well beyond the technology component and even beyond the boundaries of the 64-acre property. To achieve its full potential, Affeldt said the project should include two state-owned and one city-owned parcel bordering the property that would allow for the project to encompass approximately 100 acres.
The proposal mentions there have already been discussions with the governor about adding the parcels to the master plan “and this seems straightforward,” it says of one of the simplest pieces to what is an expansive redevelopment plan Affedlt said would take at least $400 million to complete. The proposal calls for the creation of a “second center for the city” to include parks, a 1,400-seat amphitheater, academic institutions, the construction of more than 1,000 housing units, a 200-room hotel and the “Silicon Santa Fe” tech campus.
“The objective is not to build more stuff, but to build an economic catalyst,” he said. “New Mexico has long been known as an economic backwater, but we have the potential to turn that around.”
The proposal says that Santa Fe suffers from a lack of office space suitable for attracting tech companies. “Because of this, Santa Fe misses out on the high-wage jobs and spin-off businesses such industry would bring,” it says.
David Breecker, president of Microgrid Systems Laboratory, is a member of the Central Park team. His company would be involved in conceptual planning and implementation for an infrastructure to support a high-tech campus.
“What we are proposing is to design advanced energy and other energy infrastructures for water, telecommunication, transportation, mobility and security, sometimes known as smart cities infrastructure. That would include a state-of-the-art microgrid system to support the goals laid out in the project for sustainability,” he said.
The microgrid – a small-scale energy system that can operate independently of the general power grid – would provide resilience in that it would continue to function in the event of a regional blackout, he said, and is just what is needed to support high-tech firms.
“It would also act as a demonstration project to show what the city is capable of doing,” he said.
Other members of the Central Park Santa Fe team include Kim Shanahan, former head of the Santa Fe Area Homebuilders Association; Mark Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Descartes Labs; Bill Smith, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Community Foundation; Cyndi Conn, executive director of Creative Santa Fe; and representatives with New Mexico Bank & Trust and Century Bank, George R.R. Martin’s Stagecoach Foundation, and Theatre Santa Fe, to name a few.
Other respondents mum
Central Park Santa Fe was the only one of the master developer respondents reached for this story willing to share its proposal with the Journal.
Hernandez said the proposals are kept confidential by the city so not to “taint” the competitive process.
The city under Mayor Alan Webber has decided to adopt the terms of state government’s procurement code, which requires that contents of bidders’ submissions for contracts not be made public until final selections have been made, to protect proprietary information or proposals.
In this case, a selection might not happen for a year or more, Hernandez said, meaning details of the proposals will be kept secret by the city until then, though respondents are free to publicly disclose their plans if they wish.
Affeldt – who as a younger man achieved some notoriety as an anti-war activist, later become mayor of Winslow, Arizona, (where he restored the landmark La Posada Hotel) and is married to artist Tina Mion – doesn’t mind sharing his plans. In fact, he thinks the process should be completely transparent.
The city announced only the names and addresses of respondents to the Midtown Campus solicitation.
“This is too big a project to keep those confidential,” he said of the proposals. “There should be a complete and robust effort to get input from the community if the objective is to come up with something that’s going to make Santa Fe better.”
Affeldt will publicly present the Central Park Santa Fe plan at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8, at Collected Works bookstore as part of the weekly Journey Santa Fe series of talks and presentations.
One of the other respondents for master developer – Santa Fe Innovation Village – is also part of the Central Park Santa Fe proposal.
Santa Fe Innovation Village, LLC, was formed earlier this year, according to online records, and wants to make Santa Fe one of three proposed “villages” that would make up an envisaged “New Mexico Innovation Triangle” to include Los Alamos and Albuquerque.
“All three Innovation Villages will be integrated into the educational and economic development framework on the New Mexico Innovation Triangle and provide housing across a range of income levels, as well as a keen focus on sustainable development,” reads a section on Santa Fe Innovation Village included in the Central Park proposal.
“Over the past 18 months, the team has been developing a range of relationships across city and state government, gaining support for the necessary zoning, ordinances and other items to facilitate success on the Santa Fe Innovation Village at Central Park Santa Fe.”
Its team is lead by John Rizzo, who heads up Deem, a San Francisco-based company whose mission is “to transform business travel technology.” Other members include the aforementioned Shanahan, Albuquerque real estate broker John Mahoney, and former state Department of Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught.
UNM is part of several proposals.
“I think it’s fantastic that UNM is on all or almost all the teams,” Hernandez said.
After all, the property was the site of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design (SFUAD) until it closed last year, and prior to that was the long-time home to the College of Santa Fe.
Tim Castillo, special advisor to the provost and associate professor with UNM’s School of Architecture and Planning, said the university wouldn’t release its master lessee proposal, but that UNM wants to be a part of the redevelopment.
“It was our intention to work with various teams and be as collaborative as possible,” Castillo said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. Santa Fe has such high visibility globally, and there are opportunities to create something new and unique not only for Santa Fe, but also for the region.”
In a letter of intent to be a part of the Central Park proposal, UNM Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs James Paul Holloway said the Midtown district “will provide an opportunity for interdisciplinary thought at the confluence of art, design, engineering, science, history and public policy.”
“While drawing upon the history and culture of this unique state, we aim to educate students through collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based learning,” he added.
The proposal for Central Park Santa Fe calls for UNM to occupy a part of the campus’ Fogelson Library, which would be redeveloped as a gateway to the property, and for a UNM Center for Film and Digital Technologies.
“UNM proposes a new program in film and digital technology, which is the perfect synergy with our proposed studio development,” it says.
Castillo said UNM was interested in “hitting the ground running” and occupy space as soon as it become available.
The Central Park proposal also reserves room for United World College, which has a main campus near Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Two years ago, soon after the announcement that SFUAD would close, UNM explored partnering with Signapore-based Raffles Education Inc., a for-profit organizations that operates about 22 campuses around the world, but none in the Western Hemisphere. But that deal fell through due to “delays to the transfer of ownership process,” according to a SFUAD news release at the time.
Efforts to reach Raffles Education, which also submitted an expression of interest for master developer, by email were unsuccessful, as were attempts to contact another respondent, Specialized Capital Partners, of Chicago.
Messages and emails to another respondent, KDC Real Estate Development and Investments, of Dallas, were not returned.
Santa Fe-based Zydeco Development, also a master developer respondent, declined an interview.
NNSA Field Office’s ideas
DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration also declined to release its master developer proposal, saying the agency was still in the “exploratory phase” of determining feasibility. But it did provide some general comments.
In a statement to the Journal, NNSA’s Los Alamos Field Office said the Midtown property – located at the west end of the Midtown Local Innovation Corridor, or LINC, a planning zone that runs from the campus along St. Michael’s Drive to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center – presents an attractive opportunity and that the agency looks forward to opening a dialogue with city government to learn about its expectations.
“Having a new campus – midway between New Mexico’s two national laboratories – to house professional staff, scientists and engineers in partnership with the City of Santa Fe would be very beneficial,” the statement said. “Given NNSA’s strong financial commitment to the State of New Mexico in the coming decade and the urgent need for additional mission space, the Midtown Campus is a logical choice to investigate.”
Toni Chiri, spokeswoman for the Los Alamos Field Office, issued an assurance that no radiological or high-hazard activities would be performed on the property. The field office is exploring using the space mostly for administrative office space or for engineering, light manufacturing, and research and development in collaboration with facilities across the country, she said.
“It would meet the growing need for office and development space, and would address the commute workers face in driving back and forth,” Chiri said.
Happy with responses
The city’s staff evaluation panel will have a lot to look at in the coming months, but Hernandez is OK with that. He said that sending out requests for expressions of interest was a little like throwing a party and not knowing who will show up. He’s happy with the turnout and that the seven respondents will give the city something to choose from.
“There is overlap within the proposals, but they all come with a different perspective,” he said. “They all come with a piece that separates them.”