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County, Dance Group Working on Lease

By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
       Bernalillo County is working on a lease that would allow a dance group to rent the Hiland Theater without having to pay in cash.
    Instead, the National Dance Institute of New Mexico would provide dance programs for sick and poor children; pay for utilities, repairs and maintenance and try to raise millions of dollars to renovate the theater.
    County commissioners this month authorized the county manager to negotiate the lease. It must still be approved by the state Board of Finance before taking effect.
    Commissioner Deanna Archuleta, a strong supporter of the lease, said the county and state have paid for almost $5 million in renovations to the historic theater, which went dark in 2005. But another $2 million to $5 million is needed, she said.
    "We realized that there was no additional money we can pour into it to complete the renovations," Archuleta said. "The National Dance Institute has shown that they're able to do that kind of financial fundraising and be able to complete the facility — not only for their use but other entities as well."
    She hopes children can start using the theater within a year and a half.
    It's a 30-year agreement, but would be terminated if in three years, the dance institute failed to obtain an occupancy permit for the theater. The group will have to show that the theater complies with building and safety codes. In the meantime, that means the institute will rent the theater without occupying it. The group can still get credit toward its rent, however, by doing repairs and similar work.
    The lease authorization was adopted 4-1 by the commission, with Teresa Córdova voting "no."
    "I would like to have seen more groups have access to the site and more of a partnership established among groups," Córdova said. "That's a pretty big space."
    Commission Chairman Alan Armijo was skeptical but supported the lease. He said the Albuquerque school district had interest in making the site a magnet school or using it in some other way.
    The county took ownership of Hiland Theater about five years ago. The theater, built in 1948, was a prominent fixture along Route 66.
    County commissioners approved a $4 million bond deal to finance the purchase and some renovations of Hiland in 2003. They took ownership of the theater from Musical Theatre Southwest, then rented it back to the nonprofit.
    County officials intended for rent from the group to cover debt payments on the theater purchase. Eventually, however, Musical Theatre Southwest was unable to afford keeping the Hiland open, and the county began looking at other options.
    Under the proposed lease presented to commissioners, the county estimates "fair market" rent to be $184,000 a year. That figure could rise with inflation over time.
    The proposal says the National Dance Institute would pay the county by:
    n Providing services for "sick and indigent persons" in the county;
    n Covering "out-of-pocket" costs for maintenance, repairs and insurance;
    n Using cash for the remaining balance if the services and out-of-pocket costs don't cover the rent.
    The National Dance Institute would have to use the theater primarily to help sick or poor people by providing instruction in dance, performing arts, exercise and nutrition. It can also be used for administrative offices for the institute and as rehearsal space for students. The institute will offer counseling and case managers to connect families to Medicaid, Medicare and other services.
    "Some of the children come from families with addiction issues," Archuleta said.
    Other groups could use the theater, too. Commissioners directed the county manager to ensure that the property can be subleased to other groups when the institute isn't using it. Also, the county would have the right to hold three events there a year.
    The county issued a request for proposals before negotiating with the National Dance Institute. No one else applied, probably because of the number of services for the poor that the county was seeking, Archuleta said.
    "NDI is still, by far, the best situation for the most amount of children," she said.
    The nonprofit institute has a large national endowment, Archuleta said, a sign of its fundraising prowess.
    A spokeswoman for the institute said she couldn't comment until the lease is approved.