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Zane's World: Power Steering

May 21, 2008, 12:00 am
I can understand why SFR's Eavesdropper feature [Santa Fe Eavesdropper: May 21] is so popular. Incurably prone to overhearing nearby conversations myself, I recently perked up my ears as I listened in on three men meeting over coffee. One man blurted to the others, "The hospital gets sold off, the college is on the verge of the same fate - what's wrong with this city?! - I get the feeling philanthropy is only cocktail-party deep around here."? Indeed.

Certainly Santa Fe is lucky to have a pool of committed philanthropists and charitable foundations whose allegiances to the good of the region cannot be disparage. But when it comes to a few keystone elements - hospitals and colleges are a good example - that typically enjoy broad support in established communities, Santa Fe's philanthropists get as thin as beetle-ravaged pines.
An optimistic eavesdropper, I like to imagine that the malaise, of which I so often capture illicit earfuls, actually poises on the precipice of new and inventive solutions to these sorts of dilemmas.
After all, the success or failure of the College of Santa Fe, for example, isn't just a matter of a few Greer Garsons having namesake buildings and facilities. We finally understand enough about how culture, economics and quality of life intermingle to know that community institutions have an impact on all of us and need to be supported by a broad base. It's one thing to be sad at the prospect of the College of Santa Fe being faced with closing its doors, it is another entirely to consider the loss of the significant millions of dollars the college spends locally, from school supplies to infrastructure and maintenance. Losing CSF would be both a cultural and a cash-heavy loss.

While we're waiting for that lemonade-from-lemons solution, the county at least is demonstrating how serious it is about its economic development agenda. Not everyone agrees that Santa Fe needs Santa Fe Studios, the gargantuan but elegant (at least conceptually) movie studio facility that received a unanimous green light from the Board of County Commissioners last month. There are pointed concerns about water use, scale, traffic, light pollution, etc. But the county is wise to the most salient point of the economic development plan, which the City of Santa Fe approved in 2004: Change is coming and we have the option to control it or to be controlled by it. The county's creation of the Community College District, with its progressive zoning, its emphasis on centralized densities and shared open space, and required sustainable practice through water and energy efficiency, is exemplary of steering change in a positive direction. That it went on to transform a dead business park location, through further zoning designation, into a "media district,"? is grabbing the steering wheel and working the accelerator all at once. It almost makes the wanton destruction of the old Paramount building last week forgivable. There's currently only one other such specially zoned district in the country, and that's in studio-heavy Burbank, Calif. The county zoning allows for some uncommon features in northern New Mexico, such as an 80-foot height cap. But Country Growth Management Director Jack Kolkmeyer believes the district's proximity to the already-oversized jail and state penitentiary mitigates such concerns.

"No one wants to live very close to those two things. Our option was to build storage units or to come up with something more dynamic,"? he says.

Concerns about height, water (the county already has 25 acre feet set aside for economic development initiatives) and everything else will be addressed at an "open house"? on Wednesday, May 21. Beginning at 6 pm in the Jemez Room at the Santa Fe Community College, representatives from the county, Santa Fe Studios, the New Mexico Film Office, the Community College and the IATSE Local 480 film union will be on hand to discuss the benefits and challenges of the proposed studio. The BCC meeting at 10 am, Tuesday, May 27, is expected to clear any remaining hurdles. In the event that everything proceeds as planned over the coming week, Jason Hool of the Santa Fe- and Hollywood-based family that is backing Santa Fe Studios, says that a groundbreaking should occur before the end of the year, with a 12-month timetable to complete the first phase of a 48-acre build-out.

Architect Gary Bastien's considerations of the site and willingness to meet and exceed the efficiency standards of the Community College District are on track for meeting the dual - and nearly opposing - standards of a good fit with the landscape and a significant design attraction. Bastien is something of a studio specialist and his recent Ciudad de la Luz project in Alicante, Spain, though leaning toward a corporate aesthetic and not wholly inspiring, also is inoffensive and appears to be site-appropriate. Under questioning, Hool, Kolkmeyer and Senior County Economic Development Planner Robert Griego, have thoughtful and well-developed answers to the tough questions they are likely to face from the community. The likely economic impact of Santa Fe Studios, from initial construction through annual operating, gross receipts taxes, etc., will be tremendous.

Will Santa Fe Studios ultimately be a good cultural partner for the region? The plans are there for the appropriate collaborations, the language is being used. So, we'll see. But for the time being, it fits perfectly into Santa Fe's role in the state's media industries strategic plan (MISP), as well as the county's economic development plan. It's good to see at least a few plans being implemented. Maybe whoever's drawing up a plan to save the College of Santa Fe ought to share it with the rest of us.


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