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SF convention center possible site for 2021 Legislature

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Members of the Legislative Council Service will discuss the format of the annual legislative session on Monday, amid what’s been an extraordinary year for New Mexico during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the possibilities mulled by legislators is renting out the Santa Fe Convention Center, a 72,000-square-foot space in Santa Fe’s downtown area, for some of the Legislature’s committee meetings.

Tourism Santa Fe Director Randy Randall, who oversees the convention center, said state officials approached his office about utilizing the space, which has seen a significant reduction in usage since the start of the pandemic.

“It was just to get more space so that they could properly social distance,” he said. “It’s really for the safety of their members.”

If approved, it would come with a hefty price tag for the state of $250,000, which Randall said would cover the operating cost of having the center fully occupied for at least 60 days.

Another cost, that of improving the broadband infrastructure of the center, may have to be covered by the city.

Committee meetings are often broadcast on video to the public, which became the primary way the public could view hearings during the special legislative session in June. The convention center, Randall said, currently doesn’t have the upload speeds capable of broadcasting several meetings at once.

As a result, the city plans on using part of its $17 million in CARES Act funding for the improvements to the infrastructure. The total price for purchasing and installing the hardware is between $70,000 and $90,000, Randall said.

It’s unclear, though, if the city is actually allowed to use CARES Act funding for such a project. In its application to the state finance department, city officials said CARES money would go toward extra costs by the city in the wake of the pandemic and financial assistance for Santa Fe’s neediest residents.

Randall said the City Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing whether those funds can be used on the convention center.

Mayor Alan Webber and City Attorney Erin McSherry did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, said if the center is selected, parking spaces would most likely be reserved for legislators at each site. Some legislators had floated the idea of shuttles to transport lawmakers, but Burciaga said that would create more risk.

Exactly where the session will be held – and what procedures must be created – has all yet to be decided. Burciaga said while this situation is unique, it’s not the first time a session would be held outside the Roundhouse. Legislative sessions were held at the Lamy Building in the 1990s when the state Capitol underwent renovations.

“The bottom line is we don’t have any decisions (at the moment),” Burciaga said. “The devil’s in the details.”

Legislative Council Service to discuss options Monday