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Santa Fe hears from Midtown developer


SANTA FE, N.M. — “Santa Fe is full of people with opinions and those opinions matter. You need to be engaged and listen.”

So said James Feild, chief development officer of Cienda Partners, during the city of Santa Fe’s first “Meet the Developer” meeting on Tuesday that solicited public input about the redevelopment of the city-owned Midtown campus.

Cienda Partners is one half of the team chosen to be the master developer for the 64-acre campus that formerly housed the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

On May 4, the city entered into a one-year exclusive negotiating agreement with Cienda and KDC Real Estate Development and Investments through a largely private process that began with a Request for Expressions of Interest in developing the site. Many people have been critical of the process for keeping the public out of the loop until the city made a decision.

Now that KDC/Cienda has been chosen, the city is reaching out to the public through virtual meetings such as the one Tuesday moderated by Daniel Hernandez, project manager for the Midtown redevelopment.

Hernandez posed questions that had been submitted in advance by the public to representatives of KDC and Cienda as well as to their local partners, which include Homewise, Santa Fe Community College, Youthworks and others. Residents also had the opportunity to ask questions via live chat on the city’s YouTube channel.

Although the master developer is being billed as a Texas company, Cienda Partners founder and partner Philip Wise stressed the group’s involvement in Santa Fe through its ownership of La Fonda on the Plaza and its development work in Las Campanas and the El Rey Court hotel on Cerrillos Road.

The master developer sought to make clear that it’s not planning some cookie-cutter mixed-used design for Midtown that looks like Disneyland.

“We started with a team that has boots on the ground. We want to create a place that’s authentic,” said Bill Guthrey, who is senior vice president of land development of Texas-based KDC.

Several of the questions focused on the need for affordable housing. Michael Loftin, CEO of Homewise, fielded most of those questions.

“We want to have a mixed-income approach,” he said, with a mix of affordable housing options.

Loftin and others said there is a need for a walkable campus that allows people to live, work, play and learn.

“Santa Fe doesn’t have enough of that. This is going to be a cool place,” he said.

The master developer said it doesn’t view the 64-acre size of the Midtown site as finite. There are opportunities for land swaps with properties along St. Michael’s Drive that will provide greater flexibility for local partners — such as Christus St. Vincent, SFCC and the University of New Mexico — as they move to establish a presence at the site.