It looks like the city is gaining some momentum on turning loose the pros on the redesign of the midtown campus that once housed the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

I’m sure we all wish them well as they get to know how much fun it is to work development in Santa Fe. The curve can be steep, but it’s fascinating — if embraced with wide-eyed curiosity, wonder and enchantment.

If not, they’ll be repeating the mutterings of former Gov. Lew Wallace, who famously said in 1881, “All calculations based on experience elsewhere fail in New Mexico.”

Two outfits have been hired — one from Berkeley, Calif., and one from Philadelphia. They’ll report to recently contracted San Francisco Bay Area planner Daniel Hernandez, who was selected by former Director of Economic Development Matt Brown, another Bay Area transplant. Hernandez is assisted by the city’s new asset manager, Kevin Kellogg, who moved to Santa Fe last year after a full career in planning and development in Phoenix and the Bay Area.

The Berkeley group will handle the development of the campus’ master plan, and the Philly group will tackle the process of neighborhood engagement. The Philadelphians would be advised to consider a lesser-known Wallace quote: “To begin a reform, go not into the places of the great and rich; go rather to those whose cups of happiness are empty — to the poor and humble.”

And indeed, reform is exactly what’s anticipated. The midtown area is much larger than the campus proper, which sits in the center and is the big-dog driver. In terms of long-range planning, the midtown area extends to Meow Wolf in one direction and Second Street in the other. It adjoins one of the most organized anti-growth neighborhoods in the city.

If the Philly outfit has its work cut out for it trying to get neighborhood buy-in, the Berkeley gang trying to do a thorough master plan has even more. That’s because another 40 acres adjacent to the campus are owned by institutional entities the city has no control over but should.

It appears the city and state are about to pull the trigger on a plan first conceived by former Asset Manager Matthew O’Reilly, in which the city gets the adjacent state-owned property in exchange for the state obtaining some city-owned property near the Law Enforcement Academy. That’s good and long overdue, but it’s just the start.

Another underutilized adjacent piece is controlled by Santa Fe Public Schools. Mayor Alan Webber has proclaimed an intention to bring the school district in for negotiations, and that’s good, too. But there’s a large parcel that blocks connectivity between the state and school property. From a developer’s perspective, it is the absolute best chunk for high-density, multifamily development.

It’s perfect. It’s walking distance to Nava Elementary School and looks over one of the biggest public parks in town, already built out with baseball fields, basketball courts, playgrounds, a skate park and room for a soccer field or two. With a break in a wall, it’s walkable to shopping at the College Plaza strip mall on Cerrillos Road.

At present, it’s a virtually empty parking lot surrounded by tall chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

It’s owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Which is a problem. A big one.

Working one’s way up the pyramid of permission in the bureaucracy of the federal government is a fool’s errand. Getting our hands on that property to develop affordable rental housing needs to start at the top. This is a job for U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and especially U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, who can leave a genuine legacy by getting the Forest Service to give it up.

Kim Shanahan is a longtime Santa Fe builder and former executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association.

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