Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The National Nuclear Security Administration wanted to acquire the “entirety” of Santa Fe’s 64-acre Midtown property and partner with the city and other contractors with the redevelopment of the St. Michael’s Drive corridor, according to a proposal submitted to the city in October 2019.
The Department of Energy/NNSA proposal was not picked by a committee selected to vet the responses, but the firm that was chosen has since backed out.
NNSA now says it is no longer interested in the former campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, which closed in 2018.
“At this time there are no plans to acquire the Santa Fe Midtown Campus and we have not been approached by the City of Santa Fe to discuss acquisition,” said a statement from the NNSA’s Los Alamos Field Office.
The city has refused to release the responses it received from a Request for Expressions of Interest to serve as master developer of the property, which is now largely vacant.
The Department of Energy/NNSA proposal was obtained by the Los Alamos Study Group through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared with the Journal.
“Now we know at least one of the reasons why the city wanted to keep this so secret,” Greg Mello, executive director of Los Alamos Study Group said.
The campus would have been utilized by Los Alamos National Laboratory, which lab director Thom Mason said is running out of room and is looking for additional space within a 50-mile radius of Los Alamos. In the past few months, LANL signed 10-year leases with three properties in Santa Fe to house close to 600 employees.
LANL is ramping up its national security mission to produce as many as 30 plutonium pits, the core of nuclear warheads, per year by 2025.
While LANL does research and development in a broad range of scientific fields, about 78% of LANL’s current $3.7 billion budget is dedicated to weapons production.
Last month, the NNSA approved the project definition phase and conceptual design for Los Alamos Plutonium Pit Production Project. The cost estimate ranges from $2.7 billion to $3.9 billion and the work is scheduled to be completed in five years. But critics say the entire cost will be many times more than that.
The DOE/NNSA proposed that it would develop the Midtown property in two phases.
“In Phase I, we would acquire the entirety of the Midtown Property and repurpose suitable square footage in phases to meet needs for administrative offices, training, and engineering space while preserving the culture of Santa Fe and recognizing the history of the Site,” it says, adding that roads to accommodate additional traffic would be improved.
Phase II would involve acquiring additional real estate for development with contractors and future partners.
Additionally, the DOE/NNSA proposed working with the city to develop the “Midtown LINC,” or Local INnovation Corridor, along a more than 2-mile stretch of St. Michael’s Drive between Cerrillos Road and St. Francis Drive.
It says that the long-term vision for the property would be an open campus environment.
“There will be no radiological or high hazard activities performed at the Midtown Property,” it says. “Instead, we intend to create an environment where the operators of all our DOE/NNSA facilities across the country can collaborate.”
The proposal said that funding for developing the Midtown campus and LINC would come through congressional appropriations.
The city says it hasn’t released the proposals because it is bound by the state procurement code, which provides that bidder proposals be kept private until a contract is awarded. But Santa Fe is not required to follow the procurement code, as it is not a statute imposed by the city.
The city selected Dallas-based KDC Real Estate Development and Investments/Cienda Partners to lead the redevelopment project in May 2020, but the company and city agreed to sever the relationship in January. The city could now revisit some of the master developer proposals, take over development of the property itself, or potentially sell it off.
Rich Brown, the city’s economic development director, said the sale of the property is still an option but it would require a resolution by the mayor and City Council.
He said it remains unclear exactly what will happen to the property, which is being rezoned to accommodate redevelopment.
Brown confirmed that there have been no discussions with NNSA about the property since it submitted its proposal.