There has rarely been a month in which Santa Fe’s golden-brown, stucco-textured, magical bubble was more evident. Everyone from the crazy guy down on the corner to the president of the United States has been shouting that the end is near. It has become obvious that an unregulated free market is capable of producing its own kind of “shock and awe.” Yet, earlier in the month, Santa Fe saw the Railyard grand opening; the city’s new center teemed with cosmopolitan swank, the Farmers Market bustled, couples strolled through the beautiful new park, children clambered on rocks and slides, and teens were hassled by police on funny little Segways. It was, in other words, a nouveaux-Rockwellian scene of micro-urban bliss.
Hot on the heels of that glimpse of civic soulfulness came the Sept. 25 grand opening of the Community Convention Center. True, it was the same day as the largest bank failure in the country’s history and concurrent with Somali pirates hijacking 33 Russian T-72 tanks. More than a few hand baskets, in other words, had some hell in them. But inside Santa Fe’s bubble, we held a lovely little spiritual affirmation for the new convention center, which included Christian, Catholic, Jewish and Native American blessings, and at least two prolonged toots out of a ram’s horn. Later, there was a party, open to the entire community, with lots of live music, free food and (non-alcoholic) drink.
Mayor David Coss pointed out, at the opening, that the convention center is the “largest public works project in modern Santa Fe history.” It is somewhat predictable, then, that the building looks like a pueblo on steroids—a bigger and more muscular, if somewhat grossly so, version of everything around it. But that’s an attractive form to many people, according to Keith Toler. The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau director said 43 events are confirmed for the coming year, 20 contracts are pending and 40 additional dates are on tentative hold. City Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger followed up by reading actual quotes from past City Council meetings in which other councilors had been skeptical about the project—sort of a publicly amplified “I told you so.”
The thing is, on the whole, a grand achievement. Paying little mind at this early stage to the abominable acoustics, loose bricks and paving stones, ominously squeaking elevators and inexplicably dark corners, the populace seems more than approving. People were happy, even, perhaps, awed. The outdoor areas in particular—a large central courtyard and rooftop complements—truly are inspirational and exceptional spaces. In terms of its design by Beverly Spears and Fentress Architects—which was massively limited by Santa Fe style Nazis—the center is still watered down, unsurprising and flaccid (the dangers of steroids, right?) compared to what might have been. But at no time in the process was there the political or civic will to engage in a more architecturally significant, regionally defining project. So, as usual, we’ll take what we can get.
As was reported a likelihood in this column [Aug. 27: “Local Scare”], the Santa Fe Alliance has decided not to renew its formal contract with the Locals Care card program. The program utilizes a card for consumers to use when shopping at participating merchants, which directs a portion of the sale both toward local non-profits and back into “community points,” which the cardholder may redeem like cash, with the merchants. Under the contract, participating merchants had to be members of the Santa Fe Alliance, an advocacy, marketing and workforce development organization dedicated to strictly defined local business and economic development.
In a letter to its membership of local, independent merchants, the Alliance wrote: “The Alliance Board of Directors, after careful review, has chosen to focus our organization’s attention on our own programs. Locals Care is embarking on an ambitious campaign to enter other cities. The Alliance’s mission is focused on local business and the Santa Fe economy.” Beyond its letter, the Alliance was unwilling to comment on the situation.
Locals Care Director William Underwood remains upbeat about the program’s success in Santa Fe and the wisdom of expanding to other cities. Regarding the end of its partnership with the Alliance, he says, “It does open up the door for us to revisit the definition of local.” Part of his company’s expansion to other cities (the program is running in Los Alamos and preparing to launch in Albuquerque) includes the ability for card holders to make purchases in all the participating cities with the same benefits. With its intention to expand to several other markets closer to Albuquerque in size (or larger), the program, in effect, becomes a network of independent businesses, but its emphasis on “local” comes into question.
The other big question is whether it’s prudent to start up the program in other cities when the program still can’t financially support itself in Santa Fe. Underwood claims economies of scale and says that expansion, rather than a risk, is the key to the business’ success.