Lena Street Lofts: Here, rust is a must

 Builder/developer Rick Brenner says the rusty facade on the Lena Street Lofts should last about 50 years, maybe more. Compound residents are hosting an open house Saturday.

Natasha Nargis Builder/developer Rick Brenner's Lena Street Lofts, off Second Street behind Cloud Cliff Bakery and Cafe, is an urban oasis of rustic, rusted buildings.

Brenner — managing member of Las Bodegas LLC, which owns the compound — said he built with corrugated steel because Lena Street was an industrial neighborhood. Another factor driving the design of the project, he said, was its relationship to the adjacent railroad tracks and the sight of the trains passing by.

One attractive element of building in an area zoned industrial, Brenner said, is the lack of restrictions — or demands to use stucco to create what he called a "fake pueblo style" that's often inappropriate for large-scale endeavors.

It took a lot of research to find corrugated steel that would rust, Brenner said.

"Typically, what is coming from manufacturers' plants is either galvanized, has something applied to keep it from rusting, or is painted," he said. "Most metal buildings have a color baked onto them."

When he found high-quality corrugated steel that would rust, Ellis-Browning Architects designed the compound.

Brenner said the rusty facade on the buildings should last about 50 years, maybe more; when they reach a certain color, he might seal them for aesthetic reasons.

He describes the six existing buildings as "gritty" and "rugged." Inside, though, each is a white-walled, high-ceilinged live-work space.

In the 25 years he has been building in Santa Fe, Brenner said, this is his favorite project. (It's also the first large project he decided to keep for himself, rather than sell as condos or single-family residences.)

"I wanted to make the decisions I had to make without having to convene a committee of unit or condo owners and have it become a committee design, (and) to be able to do it slowly, more as a labor of love than the quick turn-around, high-profit project that it could have become," he said.

A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Brenner describes himself as a child of the '60s — so another important element of this project is keeping it as green as possible.

"We're making a large commitment to photovolteics," Brenner said, "using the sun to generate some of the electricity."

"We have grid-tied panels on the roof, which means it goes into the PNM system," he said. "When we generate more than we use, the meter runs backwards, giving us a credit."

To augment the use of city water, rainwater from roofs is collected from cisterns, then pumped back into the buildings to flush the toilets, Brenner said.

Brenner said he first looked at the property in 1999, bought it in 2001, began working on the infrastructure in 2003, and began building in late 2005. He expects to have everything completed by the first quarter of 2008.

The road should be paved very soon, and landscaping plans include lots of trees, plants and vines, Brenner said.

The buildings will be divided into separate units after they are completed. One building now in the works contains 6,000 square feet. There could be as many as five different tenants in the building, Brenner said, unless someone moves in and takes a larger-than-usual chunk of space.

Rents for individual units range between $1,400 and $1,600 per month, Brenner said — not including the unit leased by The Trust for Public Land, which has a building to itself.

Although the development is designed for mixed use, Brenner said, only four of the

17 tenants live as well as work in their units.

The Trust for Public Land, which moved to Lena Street in mid-July 2006, was Brenner's first tenant. Milton Combs, the Trust's office manager, said they moved to Lena Street because they outgrew their old offices. Brenner's green approach and his ability to tailor the building to the organization's needs were very appealing, he said — as was access to adequate parking.

Frank Sotomayor has run his business — Frankie Flats Bicycle Repair — out of the lofts since October 2006.

The business gets its name not because he spends entire days fixing flats, Sotomayor said, but because it's his nickname. When he first moved to Santa Fe, he said, he wasn't hip to the goat heads so well known here for puncturing bicycle tires.

Sotomayor sells bicycle parts and a few bicycle brands, but says his main focus is repairs. Beginning in late fall, he will teach both group and private bicycle maintenance classes.

Sotomayor chose the Second Street neighborhood location for his business, he said, because he wanted to be in an up-and-coming local community.

Peter Tengler, whose Artman Signs Productions specializes in large-scale digital printing, graphics and design, has been at the Lena Street location for almost two years. His long, narrow studio was once a service garage for Shuttlejack, he said, but was remodeled and upgraded for his purposes.

"I like the neighborhood because it's a great mix of residential and commercial — and I like the urban flavor, size, brightness, affordability and the (nearby) inspirational art community," he said.

Alexander Dzurec, the principal of Autotroph, a small team of architects who design affordable and sustainable buildings, said his group enjoys its studio situation — no cubicles and some upstairs office space. He also said he was attracted to the site by Brenner's use of solar power and rainwater collection because they are compatible with the kind of work Autotroph does.

The Lena Street Lofts are not for everybody, Brenner said. Some people want something less gritty, others want a residential neighborhood — or a place that is more in keeping with what we've come to call Santa Fe style. But, he said, those who made the choice seem to enjoy being part of the emerging triangle-district community.

If you go
  • What: The tenants of the Lena Street Lofts community are hosting an open house, featuring tours of the new compound, music and food.
  • When: 3-6 p.m Saturday, Oct. 13
  • Where: 1600 Lena St. (off Second Street, behind Cloud Cliff Bakery and Cafe)
  • For more information: Call 984-1921.

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