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A movie set at the midtown campus in January. The Garson Studios complex will be examined as the city attempts to expand the studio as a premier film and multimedia studio and film school.

The city of Santa Fe will prioritize rezoning and creating a planning framework for the 64-acre midtown campus to prepare the site for incremental development, according to a presentation during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

In doing so, the city will have more control over the property and steer development to affordable housing, education and other previously stated community goals, said Daniel Hernandez, the midtown redevelopment project manager.

“We know there is an operating burden that is generated by the site, but we also know that if we immediately sell this property that we lose our opportunity to achieve these goals,” Hernandez said.

“So we are setting this development up so that we can make incremental decisions along the way.”

However, that means ditching a request for expression of interest process that previously led to an exclusive negotiation agreement between the city and Dallas-based KDC Real Estate Development & Investments/Cienda Partners.

The agreement, which provided the developer exclusive rights to conduct due diligence at the site, was mutually terminated in January after KDC/Cienda identified structural issues with the site.

Rich Brown, community and economic development director, said canceling the request for expression of interest process will not prevent the city from returning to previous proposals as the city rehabs the site.

A city memo noted development challenges, including substandard buildings that would need to be demolished, were identified through the process.

The city also intends to clear grounds at the site and begin planning to address main utility lines and identify buildings that can be salvaged for reuse.

The Garson Studios complex also will be examined as the city attempts to expand the studio as a premier film and multimedia studio and film school.

According to a city memo, estimated costs will be provided by June 30 as action items are ironed out, such as whether the city moves forward with zoning internally or through a consultant.

A capital outlay projects bill recently passed by the Legislature allocated $1 million for midtown campus site rehabilitation.

Although City Councilor Michael Garcia said he liked the route staff members were taking with the property, he questioned why the City Council was not allowed to discuss how it would like the property to be addressed, noting that millions of dollars likely will be spent over 18 months.

“The way this was initially proposed to the governing body is we would have the opportunity to make the decision on what the future held for this property. This is going to be a significant investment for the city. This is going to take millions of dollars. … I think we are setting a very dangerous precedent by not formally adopting the next steps by the governing body.”

City Councilor Signe Lindell said the council should have been given the opportunity to discuss moving on from the request for interest process before the decision was made.

“I am so concerned that we are abandoning a process that we have put so much work into,” Lindell said. “I just don’t see us being able to move forward on this realistically and have the bandwidth to have them complete what we are asking them to.”

Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler said she was disappointed that the decision to move forward with rezoning did not return to the council for a vote.

I believe this is a council decision, not a staff decision,” Vigil Coppler said.

Brown said the council will not be excluded from any development process decisions, and the council will have to vote on any action outside of the scope of the original midtown resolution.

City Attorney Erin McSherry said Brown, acting as procurement manager, did have the authority to cancel the request for interest process.

(1) comment

Stefanie Beninato

Last night Council was supposed to have three options concerning the midtown campus-continue with the RFIP process, do rezoning and sell off parcels or sell it now. That did not happen. Rich Brown a senior staff member under a 2018 resolution, which does not have force of law, said he had the power to make the decision. And despite Rich Brown's statement that no development decisions will be made without council approval--he just made the decision to stop the RFIP and now go to a master rezoning plan with it still unknown whether the city will develop the rezoning plan or a private consultant will. Why a private consultant? Because the Planning Commission will “be confused” if the staff comes in making the recommendation—these rationales are laughable.

The can keeps getting kicked down the road—three years after Laureate announced the closing of the SFe University of Art and Design, the city still does not know how or when it will do anything with this campus. It is a staff driven process that they now seem happy to give to some private consultant—why? To avoid responsibility, because the city really lacks the resources to do the necessary infrastructure repairs and upgrades? The city has acknowledged that it will take millions of dollars to bring this property up to a level that a developer will want it--but don't worry, the developer will pay its share (have we heard that before?) From my POV, the campus is a virtual wasteland with some exceptions and will continue to drain city resources while the staff keeps fiddling and changing its tune. I appreciated the councilors who wanted to take back Council’s legitimate power to make these decisions and to not be starry eyed about the ultimate rewards of keeping “control” over the campus and its potential.

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