After three months spent pondering the path forward for the 64 acres of city-owned property that is currently the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, the city is ready to listen, draw up some pictures of what the future might look like, and watch the public decide what ideas have the most merit.
Councilors and city staff hope to have a clear picture of the best ideas by the start of May, and a formal recommendation for the City Council shortly thereafter.

The plan for broad, contextual public input—and ultimately a decision on how best to move ahead with the property—will come just as Laureate International Universities closes the doors for SFUAD on June 30.

The city currently owes $27.2 million on the property, which it purchased in 2009. A recent appraisal valued it at $36 million. The city makes twice-yearly payments of about $1.1 million on that debt and has already included money for one of those payments in its current fiscal year budget, which ends on Sept. 30.

For the next four weeks, until Feb. 21, the city plans to collect ideas and establish public priorities for the property. Staffers say they'll hold a facilitated event for 180 people who will be selected from a pool of online applicants to make sure they reflect a broad group of interests. Anyone interested in providing input but either not interested in an in-person event or not selected for it can fill out a survey online.

Over the six to seven weeks after that, until April 9, the city says it's contracted the Santa Fe Art Institute to recruit five design teams to visualize the priorities and draw up plans for the campus. Brown said they'll have a list of buildings like the Fogelson Library and Garson Studios that designers can't repurpose. The city plans to offer a $5,000 stipend to each of the teams as a show of good faith and to attract quality applicants.

City Councilor Mike Harris, who represents District 4, which contains the campus, said the idea behind the visualization stage is to open up a campus that's been in the center of a city that's grown around it. There's perhaps 100 feet of frontage on one of Santa Fe's busiest roads to the 64-acre property that lies just east of Cerrillos Road and north of Siringo Road.

"There's this very narrow window or doorway on St. Michael's Drive that very few people go through," Harris said.

Finally, in the weeks from April 10 to May 1, the city will gather evaluations on favorite plans, or parts of plans, that design teams have submitted. The city plans to hold three more facilitated sessions for about 100 people each at three different locations in the city including the Southside Library and the Santa Fe Art Institute, which is housed on the SFUAD campus. Once again, there will be a way to participate online.

The city plans to make the entire process, including the web page for the Midtown Campus Project, a bilingual effort.

Harris, who ran a project management consulting company, and Signe Lindell, a retired real estate broker who represents District 1, have spearheaded the council's informal evaluation process. Harris said Wednesday that he wanted to avoid coming up with another long-studied, painstakingly developed master plan that may or may not turn into actual development.

"My own feeling was that it was just not dynamic enough and not responsive enough," Harris said Wednesday morning as he and Lindell, as well as city Economic Development Director Matt Brown and Asset Development Director Matt O'Reilly, outlined the public input plan.

The city has been working on a public input plan since the council passed a resolution in the middle of October that set up a framework for how to move forward. An early push from staff to start the input schedule before the holidays was pushed back to now in favor of maximizing input instead of placing something else onto the plates of engaged citizens.

"It's taken a lot more work because it is a new and different way. It's not a regular process," Lindell said.

Harris said the current educational component of the property—along with a history of higher education that spans a century and a half—drove the decision to seek out educational partners both when the city bought the land nine years ago and when it drafted a resolution. In addition to the academic component, Harris said priority areas for the property also include workforce housing and job creation—specifically in the film industry, and some sort of civic benefit like potentially being able to pay utility bills or handle building permits through a satellite office.

While the campus is worth an estimated $36 million, Harris said if the city panicked and tried to cash out, he'd expect an earful.

"If we just say, 'Hey, here's this property,'" Harris theorized, "we would be hearing a lot more [from the community] than what we're hearing now." Citizens, he said, seem willing to be patient enough to make sure the city is being smart about development.

The entire campus is within the Midtown LINC zoning district, which the city developed to along St. Michael's Drive to promote more even development and to emphasize local retail as well as workforce housing in high-density apartment complexes. While the zoning change has caught the eye of developers, it hasn't yet caught the imagination of Santa Feans to any large degree. Harris said he hopes the visualization part of the input process will help with that.

The whole affair won't immediately result in a contract for a developer or a winning design team. It also won't produce a request for proposals in time to find someone else to start paying the city's debt on the land. But the city says it's still the smartest way to move forward with a rare opportunity to shape a huge part of Santa Fe.

Lindell and Brown said that while the city isn't certain what's ahead for the Garson Studios, the head of the Santa Fe Film Office is at the production facility almost daily and the city's plan is to somehow keep the studios open for production after Laureate leaves in June.

The city is accepting online applications to participate in the collection phase until Feb. 7.