Nearly 40 local nonprofits are vying for money from the City of Santa Fe. But Cornerstones Community Partnerships is, by far, asking for the most. The group has requested $1.8 million for the restoration of San Miguel Chapel, popularly known as the oldest church in the country.

The money will be awarded by the City Council and is available as the result of a $3.9 million windfall of gross-receipts dollars.

“We shot for the moon,” James Hare, Cornerstones’ executive director, says, acknowledging that Cornerstones is asking for three times more than any other nonprofit.

The city’s windfall of GRT money is well timed for Cornerstones, because the historic preservation organization just discovered it will lose some key financing.

According to Hare, $54,700—75 percent of the money raised for the restoration’s planning phase—has, so far, come from the J Paul Getty Foundation. But Getty announced in June that it was cutting certain grant programs, including the one that covers the San Miguel project.

Hare believes Cornerstones and other nonprofits lost Getty funding due to the foundation’s legal troubles. In 2006, the J Paul Getty Museum returned 26 ancient artworks to Italy after officials there claimed they were smuggled from the country.

“They want to replace what they’re giving back, so they’ve revamped their grant program,” Hare says.

However, Getty Foundation spokeswoman Melissa Abraham disputes Hare’s assessment. “We really felt like we completed what we set out to do with those grants,” she tells SFR, adding that other grant programs, for which Cornerstones may qualify, are being developed.

Hare also hoped a Clinton-era program called Save America’s Treasures might help with funding, but says, “It’s been embattled by the Bush administration… there hasn’t been as much money as we hoped for there.”
While Cornerstones searches for money, the chapel, located on Old Santa Fe Trail, is slowly rotting from the inside out.

In the 1930s, concrete was used to cover the adobe walls in an effort to preserve them. Rainwater from buildings uphill gets trapped between the adobe and the concrete shell. Moisture causes the walls to collapse. Besides the wall damage, drainage from the Lew Wallace Building and New Mexico Tourism Department washes under the chapel and through a cemetery in front of the buildings where many early Santa Feans are buried.

However, San Miguel Chapel has a history of overcoming hazards. A fire set during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt nearly ruined the chapel, and a storm in 1872 ripped off the top of the church. In fact, San Miguel has undergone numerous reconstructions; the chapel’s current incarnation bears little resemblance to an 1871 photo hanging in the chapel’s back hallway.

Still, Cornerstones Southern Region Program Manager Pat Taylor says, “We are talking about a cultural resource that is unparalleled.”

As significant as San Miguel Chapel may be, it’s unlikely Cornerstones will receive $1.8 million from the city, according to City Councilor Patti Bushee, who describes the requests for surplus tax money as a “feeding frenzy.” She characterizes Cornerstones’ funding problems as symptomatic of the nationwide economic downturn.

“Money is tight all around,” she says. “It’s not coming from the feds down to nonprofits like it used to. It’s not coming from the state. [Nonprofits] are always turning to the last in line, and here we are. We could spend this money 100 times over.”

Bushee says smaller grant requests, such as the Santa Fe Fire Department’s $64,000 request to fund a bike-medic program, stand a better chance of winning approval when the city makes its final decisions on Sept. 15 . “That seems doable,” she says. “We are looking for the most bang for the buck.”

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss agrees with Bushee’s less-gets-more attitude. “Groups that are looking for under $100,000 might have a better chance,” he says. “Nobody’s going to get $1.8 million.”

Hare says that without the city funding, “we’ll be set back and disappointed, considering it’s the city’s oldest sacred place that’s still in use and was founded at the same time the city was founded.”
He remains hopeful, however.

“But there are other foundations we’ll go to. That’s what we’re best at doing—pulling together pots of money to make things happen.”