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County OKs tax break for Sawmill hotel, market

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County will have a new fire chief soon.

The County Commission voted 4-0 on Tuesday to confirm Chris Celaya for the position after a recommendation from County Manager Tom Zdunek.

Celaya is now a deputy fire chief in El Paso. He has a master’s degree in public administration.

Zdunek said Celaya’s experience in El Paso will provide the county with new perspectives that could be helpful. El Paso, for example, has an incredibly good insurance rating for fire protection, Zdunek said.

Celaya will replace Frank Barka, who retired as county fire chief last month.

Bernalillo County commissioners agreed late Tuesday to move forward with about $191,000 in annual tax breaks for the proposed Hotel Chaco and Sawmill Market.

The commission’s 4-0 vote authorized an “inducement resolution,” the first step needed to approve the deal. Final consideration will come in May.

The 118-room project would be the first hotel built in Old Town in 40 years, supporters say.

County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said renderings of the planned hotel suggest it will be a “stunning” project. She thanked Jim Long, the veteran hotelier behind the development.

The hotel and market will help the “up and coming” Sawmill neighborhood, she said.

“I believe they will be a success, and, if they are, it will be a great boost to this area,” O’Malley said.

The tax breaks are part of a proposed $50 million package of industrial revenue bonds, a financing mechanism that reduces borrowing costs for the developers and provides the tax breaks. The county isn’t responsible for repaying the bonds.

As part of the bond deal, the county would abate some or all of the project’s taxes on real and personal property, gross receipts and compensating taxes. That’s a value of about $191,000 a year, according to the county.

The new hotel would lie adjacent to Hotel Albuquerque and share its pools, ballrooms and chapel. About $40 million in bonds are for that part of the project.

The remaining $10 million is for Sawmill Market, which would be immediately north of the new hotel, near Bellamah and 19th Street. The market is expected to offer “artisanal food” with local and internationally inspired cuisine.

The county estimated the project will create 215 jobs directly and spur economic activity that will repay the tax breaks quickly.

“It’s an exciting new development, bringing jobs to the area,” Commissioner Wayne Johnson said. “It’s going to be nice to see some cranes working in Albuquerque again.”

The city’s Environmental Planning Commission has approved Hotel Chaco, and it’s also supported by nearby neighborhood and merchants groups, according to the county.

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