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High Finance replacement in the works for Sandia Peak

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The High Finance Restaurant and Tavern at Sandia Peak. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s high time for an overhaul of Sandia Peak’s iconic restaurant — at least according to the ownership group currently seeking an OK to tear it down and start anew.

Sandia Peak Tram Co. — which owns the 7,000-square-foot, two-story mountaintop building — wants to demolish the aging structure and replace what is now High Finance with a rebranded 12,800-square-foot restaurant that will include fine and casual dining elements.

Guy Jackson of Sandia Peak Tram Co., the senior project engineer for the reconstruction effort, said the company has had an enjoyable working experience with the High Finance operators, but the lease on the property is set to expire next year. Sandia Peak Tram Co. intends to take over operations of the restaurant, using the proposed property remake as an opportunity to introduce a new approach. Plans call for another fine-dining restaurant, but one that would also feature a “bistro-type bar area” that would offer more casual dining.

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Jackson said the company has started consulting with an architect who specializes in mountain restaurants and lodges and is excited about the prospects.

The current building “is definitely past its useful life,” said Jackson, adding that, with a do-over, “I think we have an opportunity to have not only the best restaurant with the best view in the state but also the best restaurant from a dining experience.”

Doug Smith, who has run High Finance with partner Russ Zeigler since 1979, said the change-over has been in the works since the parties negotiated their most recent lease more than a decade ago.

“I’m kind of looking forward to it actually,” he said of closing High Finance in fall of 2016. “Thirty-six years is a long time up there.”

Smith and Zeigler, who also run Sandiago’s at the base of the Sandia Peak Tram, will also see their lease on that restaurant expire next year, Smith said.

The High Finance replacement — which doesn’t yet have a name — would seat about 150 in its main dining area, while the bar area could accommodate roughly 100, Jackson said, and hopefully appeal to hikers, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts in the area.

“That’s a big difference (from the current facility),” Jackson said. “We don’t have that; we have the fine dining, but we’re very limited for other mountain users.”

Jackson estimated the development would cost $5 million to $6 million and would take about 1½ years to complete. The goal is to begin construction in the fall of 2016 and open by May of 2018, he said.

The new details emerge after the U.S. Forest Service last week began soliciting public comment on the plan to demolish the restaurant and build a bigger venue at the site. Elaine Kohrman, forest supervisor for Cibola National Forest & National Grasslands, alerted the public to the proposal with an Aug. 27 letter.

The plan is in the earliest stages of the Forest Service approval process, which will also include an environmental impact review.

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A U.S. Forest Service image shows the current footprint of what is now the High Finance restaurant (dotted line) surrounded by the footprint of its proposed replacement.

The building dates to the early 1960s, though it underwent a significant renovation in the late 1970s to make way for High Finance. Still, it has accessibility issues.

The proposed two-story replacement would meet current accessibility requirements, offering restrooms on both levels and two elevators — one for the public and one for staff/freight.

Jackson said the new building would also improve facilities and access for Tram passengers, hikers, bikers and other mountain users.


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