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Developer John Rizzo stands Friday at the site for the planned Santa Fe Innovation Village off Beckner Road. ‘We want to create 25,000 jobs in 10 years in Northern New Mexico,’ said the former Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

John F. Rizzo wants to put the technology sector front and center in Santa Fe.

He owns 140 acres of south-side real estate he is positioning to create something he calls the Santa Fe Innovation Village — with tech companies, residences, entertainment and dining to create a live-work-play dynamic at the south edge of the expansive Las Soleras development.

Rizzo, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was among the bidders for the midtown campus, has turned his attention south and west in the year since his proposal was bypassed by the city. He says his vision for the innovation village is still fluid — no count yet of how much housing or office space he wants to build — but he expects to be ready to ask for zoning changes and approval for a planned unit development by the end of June.

Rizzo also awaits city approvals to apply Midtown LINC (Local Innovation Corridor overlay district) components to his project, such as a streamlined development process, more modernized architecture and increased density that would allow for a 75-foot height limit.

He hopes to start building something next year, likely housing.

Rizzo, once a part-time Santa Fe resident who relocated here a year ago, is passionate about diversifying the city’s economy into high-tech beyond the bustling film sector that has embraced Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

“The film industry has shown that New Mexico can be a leading place for film production,” Rizzo said. “[Santa Fe Innovation Village] can be a little supercharger into the economy that will be helpful for everybody.”

The Santa Fe tech sector has been slowly growing since the establishment of the Santa Fe Business Incubator in 1998.

“These companies are not highly visible,” said Marie Longserre, the incubator’s CEO. “There is more than we think. I do believe there is a lot more tech here than people realize.”

With the ballyhooed midtown project in limbo for the moment, Rizzo is charging ahead with big plans for the city’s quickly expanding south side.

Rizzo wants to build his project between Beckner Road and Interstate 25 from just east of Richards Avenue to the Presbyterian Santa Fe Medical Center. It is part of his greater vision to create a New Mexico Innovation Triangle with more innovation villages in Los Alamos and Albuquerque.

Rizzo said he doesn’t intend to throw his hat back into that ring now that KDC Real Estate Development/Cienda Partners has stepped away as the master developer of the midtown campus.

“We’re pretty tied up on the south side,” Rizzo said. “We’re not asking for anything. It’s a privately financed project.”

The city’s economic development director, Rich Brown, said he sees Rizzo’s project adding to the patchwork of innovation centers sprouting around the city. Rizzo’s project, he added, would fit nicely in an innovation hub with Los Alamos and Albuquerque.

“We think of the three cities as part of an innovation triangle just like you have in North Carolina,” Brown said. “It’s innovation place-making of the future. It’s building a corridor in Santa Fe that helps us recruit companies and create jobs.”

Rizzo, 63, has been active in the Silicon Valley tech scene since being part of the Apple Macintosh development in the early 1980s. He also worked at Oracle and Intel before launching seven startups, selling his last, Deem in San Francisco, in 2019. He remained CEO until 2020.

Rizzo bought a house in Santa Fe 2½ years ago with plans to eventually retire here. The coronavirus sped up full-time residency here to March 2020.

“Why don’t we build a tech economy so I have something to do?” Rizzo said. “Could we build an innovation economy in Santa Fe?”

Over the past year, he pitched the notion to dozens of local and state leaders at Sunday brunches at his home.



New Mexico Innovation Triangle “was formed as a result of these meetings,” Rizzo said. “We want to create 25,000 jobs in 10 years in Northern New Mexico.”

His vision has caught the attention of others: Meow Wolf co-founder and former CEO Vince Kadlubek values the local jobs and substantial housing Rizzo wants to create on undeveloped land.

“The jobs which can be created are jobs New Mexicans get hired for in a state they grow up in and are educated in,” Kadlubek said. “We lose so much local talent. They just never had jobs or opportunities here.”

Kadlubek notes Rizzo’s proposed housing is near freeway access and Cerrillos Road.

“We have a lot of people at Meow Wolf that have a good job and live in Rio Rancho and Albuquerque,” he said. “I think dense and urban style living with amenities within walking distance is within the thinking of affordable housing.”

Rizzo and Joseph Karnes, counsel for New Mexico Innovation Triangle, are committing to building affordable housing rather than paying the city’s fee in lieu of providing affordable housing. Karnes said the project will meet the city requirement of providing 15 percent of affordable housing, with Rizzo adding: “It will meet but not exceed that.”

“We want teachers and baristas and students and police officers and coders and software developers living right there,” Rizzo said.

Drew Tulchin, president of the New Mexico Angels group of in-state investors, believes Rizzo’s project is an ideal way to add housing and jobs.

“More houses create more houses,” Tulchin said. “A thousand houses helps our city … Santa Fe is already unaffordable. For this to be a government/tourist/retirement community is not a complete plan. … Let’s get the boomerangers, New Mexicans who left the state. Let’s give them a reason to come back.”

Rizzo has partnered with heavy hitters for his innovation triangle with the San Francisco-based global architecture firm Gensler and the Chicago-based global real estate and investment management firm JLL.

Gensler has designed high-profile projects around the world, among them Facebook’s corporate headquarters and the new Washington Post office, as well as the Hotel Chaco in Albuquerque.

“A lot of their work is post-COVID architecture with large tech companies,” Rizzo said. “What they are envisioning could be hybrid work in office, work at home. There could be walls pivoting into the ceiling. You can walk into an outdoor space.”

Rizzo envisions an area with offices that have collaborative space, individual work areas, videoconference space and residential design tailored to working at home. Rizzo recalls the average round-trip drive from his San Francisco company Deem for his 80 employees was 2.4 hours.

“Companies will tell us what they need in the concept of live-work-play,” he said. “Employers need to say to [job] candidates ‘This is where you are going to work. Isn’t it awesome?’ You can work here and you can walk to work in 10 minutes [or drive from anywhere in Santa Fe in less than 20 minutes].”

JLL buys, builds, occupies and invests in industrial, commercial, retail, residential and hotel real estate.

“They are raising the capital,” Rizzo said. “It’s going to be hundreds of millions of dollars over 10 years.”

All the serious planning for Santa Fe Innovation Village has come since the onset of the pandemic, with design aspects specifically incorporating the thinking of how the work world will emerge when the crisis ends.

“This will be the world’s first post-COVID innovation village,” Rizzo said. “There is this massive trend that people can live anywhere. There is job migration away from urban areas. Those people can be job creators here.”

(19) comments

William Mee

In fact, couldn't an INNOVATION Village (campus) be done over the Internet?Wouldn't it save 10's of millions of dollars and human activity contributing to Climate Change?

"Office Buildings" may be a thing of the past with Covid-19. There is already a glut of space in Santa Fe. In fact, there may be difficultly in converting the structures to small shops that are more needed. Twenty-first Century "Office Building Planners" were told by corporate leaders that they wanted all their employees in ONE CAMPUS (under one roof). Often the designs where suppose to look like a wagon wheel with the spokes all coming to the hub that might be a reception area or a cafeteria. The independent departments (each a spoke) would reside and think inside their collective responsibility (spoke). Then once plans/ideas/products were developed they could be taken out to the other departments along BOTH the rim of the wheel and direct to the hub simultaneously for constructive criticism.

Everything we were doing in 2019---now needs to be rethought after Covid-19. The toilet paper shortages? The inability to have local food grown here in Santa Fe instead of hauling it 2,500 miles? The sunk tanker in the Suez Canal? We need American made products and the ability to buy locally. A community farm at this site would be much more of an answer.

Sustainability must be the new goal of all governments.

Greg Mello

Thank you Teya. Stephanie Beninato and Allen Olson express views closest to mine. The problem with many of the other comments -- all thoughtful, actually, in my view -- is that most of them a) they try to hit a sweet spot that doesn't actually exist in the real world, and b) they downplay the gravity and breadth of the multifaceted crisis in which we find ourselves.

Mr. Rizzo's plan, which seeks to privatize and consume resources (water, traffic capacity, amenity, views, social cohesion) does not express the future, but rather the past. It won't work, as Mr. Molina says; a recent Brookings study showed that tech development has been and is likely to be concentrated in only a few cities. A decent university is a basic requirement.

What Rizzo believes he can capitalize upon is LANL's proposed growth and plutonium processing and warhead production, above all. LANL is looking for space and for housing. I think that's his anchor demographic, whether he -- he of the tech cult -- knows it or not. Plutonium and an arms race. If the U.S. stopped arms racing, the Santa Fe housing market would open up somewhat.

Barry Rabkin

First, the arms race is not going to stop. Maybe if you convince Russia and China to eliminate their nuclear weapons the arms race might stop. Second, Santa Fe needs more technology companies - whether like Descartes or firms focusing on Advanced Analytics, 5G and subsequent wireless broadband telecommunications, or possibly nano-materials.

Lupe Molina

“Why don’t we build a tech economy so I have something to do?” I hope we're not planning on committing public funds to his pet project just to keep this guy busy. We need affordable housing and diversified jobs. This is far from that.

Barry Rabkin

And we need technology firms .... this sounds great to me.

JB Weinberg

Ms. Molins - Please read the article carefully. He's not asking for public funds. Where does the article say the housing will be "high-end"? It does diversify the economy by adding research and tech sector jobs. Not tourism or government work. It will also add retail and food service jobs. This seems like a good concept for Santa Fe but definitely need to keep an eye on what is actually proposed. Sure beats a truck stop.

Lupe Molina

But northern NM doesn't seem to have the capacity for 25000 tech jobs. That's more than twice the size of LANL which took most of a decade to develop. We would need to do a lot of work with education and housing to accommodate that kind of expansion. And there is existing need for affordable housing that this does not meet. Tech is also not a panacea, the industry's history is littered with broken promises of job creation and economic development. I'm very pro development but this just doesn't seem sustainable. Would love to hear what actual economists have to say though.

Richard Reinders

At the speed they are leaving NY, Chicago and California it may not take long to fill the jobs,

Lupe Molina

Sorry, century*. It took many decades to develop a workforce that size at LANL.

Barry Rabkin

100% EXACTLY CORRECT. New Mexico is a poor state. One way to increase our tax revenue is to have more high-paying jobs such as those usually found in High Technology companies. Having a 'technology triangle - Los Alamos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque' sounds extremely wonderful to me.

Stefanie Beninato

Sure the developer will provide affordable housing if he can go up 75 ft...>That does not sound like houses but dense apt bldgs that are at least 5, if not 6 stories high. California here we come.

Allen Olson

The developer fails to discuss the environmental impacts of this project, particularly on water supplies. This should be first on his list given the mega drought we now live in. NM is currently ranked the most water insecure state in the nation. Purchasing water rights from farmers is a short term solution at best and one that hurts agriculture, recreation and wildlife in the long term. Anyone who isn’t aware of the water disaster facing California should read the classic “Cadillac Desert.” NM does not want to follow its lead. Also, taxpayers should always remember that study after study show housing always demands more in government services than it pays in taxes. Santa Fe clearly needs more truly affordable housing, but you don’t achieve that simply by building more housing. A subsidy for affordable housing will be required. The market will not produce much on its own. Let’s work on solving the real problems and not be impressed with growth for growth’s sake.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup]

Barry Rabkin

Perhaps the various committees and councils that must approve his plans will decide if the water exists to support the development. We are a representative democracy - and it is our Santa Fe representatives that will make that decision (and not people making comments on this column).

Paul Davis

The problem is that the question "does the water exist to support this development" is not a simple yes/no choice, and that many of us wonder sincerely if our elected representatives, both collectively and individually, have the same understanding and perspective on water issues that we do.

In many parts of the US (particularly the northern tier), population growth is rarely limited by environmental factors. Even though many people in (e.g.) Wisconsin would be unhappy if this happened, that state could likely double its population or more and not run into any limiting factors arising from the land itself.

That's not true here in the southwest, where there's generally enough water for some people to live here, but not an arbitrary number. Our elected representatives tend to be caught between the promise offered by population growth (because most of the time, more people means a growing economy and more possibilities within that economy), and the limitations caused by the water supply here.

Will they do the right thing? Well, that depends on what the right thing is, and its not clear that there is actual agreement on this. Is there enough water? There isn't agreement even on that.

Barry Rabkin

I trust my representatives to 'do the right thing' for Santa Fe specifically and NM more generally. When I stop trusting them, I will vote for people that I do trust. But water - and traffic patterns - won't be decided, thankfully, by people commenting on any newspaper article.

JB Weinberg

[thumbup]

Paul Davis

"Cadillac Desert" is fairly old, though still extremely relevant. If you want to look into the near term future, check out the (fictional) "The Water Knife", in which Phoenix has basically collapsed, and certainly doesn't bother to put out fires anymore. It's not as good a book as "Cadillac Desert", but in the violence of its vision of a water-starved southwest might turn out to be more accurate.

You wrote "tudy after study show housing always demands more in government services than it pays in taxes". This actually isn't true - it depends greatly on the type of housing/development in question. The last study I read showed that typical US suburban development does fit the pattern you're describing, but by contrast "new urbanist" development that is close to existing city infrastructure works out to be a net positive.

Richard Reinders

Sounds like more California expansion, all the top contracts and positions go to out of state companies, like architects, builders and Realtors. They will give the lowest pay positions to a few New Mexicans. If Rizzo feels this is his new home he should keep it all local, other wise it is another carpet bagger getting wealthy on New Mexico resources. I commend the project by not the execution.

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