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Redevelopment of Santa Fe’s Midtown site moves ahead

The Santa Fe City Council approved a one-year exclusive negotiating agreement with KDC Real Estate Development and Investments/Cienda Partners to develop the 64-acre Midtown property during a special meeting on Monday. This photo from September shows weeds growing in the sidewalk outside Lasalle Hall on the campus that once housed the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

SANTA FE, N.M. — The city of Santa Fe governing body, which includes Mayor Alan Webber and the eight-member city council, voted Monday to enter into a one-year contract with a master developer for the city-owned Midtown site, the former home of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

Under the terms of the exclusive negotiating agreement, KDC Real Estate Development and Investments/Cienda Partners’ plans and local partnerships will be made public. As the city has sought to find a master developer for the 64-acre property off St. Michael’s Drive, it has faced criticism for keeping private the responses to its request for expressions of interest in the site.

The only two opposing votes to the one-year “get to know you” deal came from city councilors Renee Villareal and JoAnne Vigil Coppler. Both expressed concern that public input had not been sufficient during the search for a master developer.

“I want the public to know we don’t know hardly more than they do,” said Vigil Coppler during the special meeting, which took place via the Zoom digital platform because of restrictions against public gatherings during the coronavirus crisis. “Everything has been so confidential. This whole thing bothers me to no end, but here we are.”

The Midtown site is in District 4, which Vigil Coppler represents.

After the vote, the principals of KDC and Cienda showed a video that introduced the council and the public to its local partners. Under the mixed-use development envisioned, Christus St. Vincent, Homewise, Santa Fe Community College, the University of New Mexico and Pacifica Ventures, the former owner of Albuquerque Studios, will be tenants or possibly buyers of parcels on the site.

Under the ambitious plan, the Midtown campus would have health care facilities from Christus that would be used to train surgical technicians through a program at SFCC. Homewise would work to build housing for both rental and lease at a variety of price points. SFCC would partner with UNM to create degree programs to train students for digital and film careers.

The opportunity to revitalize the campus in the heart of the city was hailed by Mayor Webber as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

The big question mark is coronavirus, which could prevent surveys and inspections from taking place and even limit the ability of local residents to comment on the proposal. The fallout from the virus could lead to a long economic downturn that could hurt prospects for the students being trained at the Midtown campus.

The contract calls for a four-month extension and could be extended further if shutdowns prevent work from occurring, said City Attorney Erin McSherry.

The presence of SFCC and UNM at the Midtown site would continue the tradition of education on the campus that dates back to 1859, when St. Michael’s College, later known as the College of Santa Fe, was founded. After the school ran into financial trouble, the city of Santa Fe bought the campus in 2009 in conjunction with the state of New Mexico and Laureate Education.

The school reopened as the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, but closed in May 2018, also because of financial woes.

Councilor Signe Lindell reminded her colleagues who were advocating a go-slow approach that the empty facility is a burden on city finances, which have taken a massive hit due to the loss of tourism.

“In the last six weeks, we have witnessed a worldwide economic meltdown. This property costs between $6,000 and $8,000 a day. That’s a lot of money, folks. Let’s make this happen as quickly as possible,” she said prior to the vote.

The city will hold a virtual meeting on Tuesday, May 12, to solicit questions and comments from the public about its new relationship with the master developer.