Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a wave of cancellations for some of Santa Fe’s most iconic events.
The Spanish Market, Indian Market, International Folk Art Market and Santa Fe Opera all had to shut down plans for events in 2020 and hope conditions would improve by the next year.
And while the coronavirus remains a prevalent danger, there’s optimism that such an occurrence could be possible again in 2021.
Organizers told the Journal they have been working with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office and the Economic Recovery Council to find a way for outdoor events to safely operate, which could include possible amendments to the existing public health order.
Some say an easing of restrictions could arrive within the next month.
Economic Recovery Council Chairwoman Christina Campos said the council is in the process of creating recommendations for the governor’s office that would allow outdoor events to take place in some capacity, something that hasn’t happened in New Mexico for nearly a year.
The recommendations would cover such events as festivals, concerts and live sporting events, among others.
“What we want to do is be able to provide hope to a lot of these businesses that have been closed for a long time,” Campos said.
For Santa Fe, that could mean attendees at events that would bolster the city’s beleaguered tourism industry.
Like many other parts of New Mexico, Santa Fe County is currently in the yellow designation of the state’s county-by-county reopening system, which means less harsh restrictions. That includes some indoor dining, increased hotel occupancy and gatherings of up to 10 people.
However, many agree gathering limits would need to be amended for outdoor events to happen — an advancement to the green level would still allow gatherings of only 20 people.
Stuart Ashman, CEO for the International Folk Art Market, said his organization has been discussing possible plans with the council, because he feels the current order does not address outdoor events.
“There is no real category for outdoor events,” Ashman said. “There is a category for retail, and retail is allowed 25% of capacity. If you put us in that category, we would have to be able to have more people.”
The Folk Art Market, currently slated to happen in July, is planning an alternative version to make it safer for attendees.
Ashman said the market would be held from Wednesday to Sunday for two consecutive weeks, with attendees buying tickets for 90 minutes so organizers can control the number of people entering. The number of artists would also be limited.
He said they would need an answer by the end of March to ultimately decide what format the market could take. If in-person attendance is not an option, he said they’ll explore hosting the festival online.
“We have lots of plans,” Ashman said. “We’re still hopeful that we’ll be able to carry out some kind of an in-person market.”
Kimberly Peone, executive director for the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, said her organization saw an 85% decline in revenues last year due in large part to the Indian Market’s cancellation. The association’s board has made no decision thus far regarding the event.
“We are waiting at this moment to see what’s going to happen with the state of New Mexico regarding its plans to open up,” Peone said.
Campos and Allan Affeldt, a hotelier who also serves on the Recovery Council, said they’re hoping for some sort of announcement on outdoor events within the next month, most likely at one of the governor’s red-to-green updates.
Daily numbers of COVID-19 cases have declined steadily in recent weeks. As of Thursday, cases were down by 45% compared to the previous two weeks.
“We’re actually quite optimistic that there will be some loosening in the next public health order,” Affeldt said. “It all depends on the gating criteria.”
Any final amendments to the public health order will have to come from Lujan Grisham’s office. In a written statement, spokesperson Nora Meyers Sackett gave no hint of any specific changes and encouraged New Mexicans to remain vigilant as the pandemic continues.
“Certainly, we are working to plan for the future, but we’re not there yet,” she wrote of changes to the health order. “We are still in a pandemic — acting too quickly risks ruining the hard work New Mexicans have done to slow the spread of the virus.”
For areas such as Santa Fe that rely heavily on tourism, having those big-name tourist draws such as the Santa Fe Opera or Folk Art Market will be key to revitalizing the city’s economy.
The city, whose budget is based largely on the gross receipts tax, initially took a big financial hit after events were canceled and found itself in danger of running a deficit of nearly $90 million. Mayor Alan Webber said at the time that cancellations had been a large factor in the economic struggles.
Tourism in Santa Fe has seen a very recent uptick after Lujan Grisham lifted the 14-day quarantine requirement for those coming into New Mexico from other states. Rik Blyth, general manager of the famed La Fonda Hotel, said reservations spiked in the days following the announcement.
“We had picked up 25 new reservations just for Valentine’s weekend,” Blyth said. “The quarantine was more of a mental roadblock because it really wasn’t enforced effectively.”
City Tourism Director Randy Randall had been concerned early 2021 would still be slow for the industry, but he said the lifting of the quarantine has left him more optimistic. He expects the industry to regain 60% of pre-coronavirus levels in 2021, a dream from the dire numbers of 2020.
But Blyth said — with La Fonda hosting no weddings or conferences — they’ll be more reliant on large events for the large draw of tourists they’ve been accustomed to seeing.
“The big question for us is the summer season,” he said. “If we lose another summer, it’s gonna be pretty drastic.”