Hopes for a cinema in the Railyard stayed alive at the Oct. 19 meeting of the City of Santa Fe Finance Committee, despite some skepticism.
A series of potential developers has “gone to every possible funding source—the market, the state Legislature and everywhere in between—and now we’re asked to bail it out,” City Councilor Miguel Chavez, the only committee member to vote against a resolution to investigate public funding options for the project, said.
That and the viability of another theater in town, when those already here are struggling, are not the only problems with this latest Railyard cinema pitch.
As SFR had reported online earlier that day, one of the principals in the company that wants taxpayers to help build a Railyard cinema has been charged several times with writing bad checks. Railyard Co., LLC principal Richard J Jaramillo also was sued last year by his ex-wife and the New Mexico Human Services Department for child support, and has had the police called to his house more than once regarding domestic violence.
The resolution, whose chief sponsor is Councilor Matthew Ortiz, would begin the process of issuing a $35.4 million bond to build a movie theater in the Railyard and would authorize the city manager to negotiate with Railyard Co.
As to why taxpayers should entrust millions to a company whose leadership includes a man charged with failing to meet his financial obligations, no one has asked this question.
“You’re assuming someone’s paying attention—and I don’t think that’s the case,” former Councilor Karen Heldmeyer, a critic of the cinema project, tells SFR.
It was a question Jaramillo himself was unprepared to answer when SFR reached him by phone on Oct. 16.
“Please put the comment in writing,” Jaramillo said. “I’m an individual that’s part of a company, OK?…I’m only part of the company.”
According to Jaramillo and Marco Gonzales—a former Republican congressional candidate and “member” of the Railyard Co. partnership—both the Journal Santa Fe and The Santa Fe New Mexican agreed to conduct interviews with the
company by email, ostensibly so the other principals, including Allen Branch and Steve Duran, could agree on a response.
Gonzales did not respond to written questions by press time. A copy of SFR’s questions also was submitted by email to Jaramillo.
Jaramillo was charged four times between 2003 and 2006 with violations under the New Mexico Worthless Check Act—sometimes with multiple counts. In each case, Jaramillo avoided judicial penalties because prosecutors withdrew the charges when restitution was paid in full (or for reasons left unstated on court dockets).
As to why the police were sent to his house earlier this year, Jaramillo’s response was: “There’s nothing—I don’t know…I wasn’t there.”
Indeed, the Santa Fe Police Department report from the evening of April 20 says: “Officers were dispatched to a domestic disturbance at [Jaramillo’s $480,000 home on Calle Roble]. Upon officers arrival they made contact with the calling party. The caller reported a verbal argument that occurred at the residence. The other party involved left prior to police arrival. No further action taken.”
In a section of the report asking whether the incident was “drug related,” Officer Philip Fernandez wrote, “YES.” It’s unclear who made the call.
Jaramillo was involved in at least one previous domestic violence incident with his ex-wife, Julie D Perez, while they lived together in 2007. In that incident, Perez was arrested and booked at the Santa Fe County jail. The responding officer’s report was based on Jaramillo’s account; according to Officer Rudy Gallegos, Jaramillo said “his wife became upset at him after he would not give her the key to where her prescription medications were kept. She then got a knife and stated ‘She would cut the life out of her.’
“Jaramillo got the knife from her but Perez started to physically attack him. The altercation ended up in the den of the residence. Perez grabbed a glass vase and broke it on the floor, then hit Jaramillo over the head with a plaster Kleenex box holder leaving a bump on his head. She also left several visible scratch marks on Jaramillo’s neck. It should be noted that Perez had no physical injuries.”
Jaramillo’s background is not the only questionable facet about Railyard Co., which built the underground parking garage in its namesake development and which has been dogged by subcontractors for nonpayment.
In its corporate registration with the Public Regulation Commission, the comp-any lists its physical address as 228 E. Palace Ave., third floor. That address belongs to the old St. Vincent’s Hospital building downtown. The building is mostly vacant, and the third floor reveals rooms in disarray, graffiti on the walls and long-clogged toilets.
Jaramillo tells SFR “it’s not weird” for the company to use this vacant site as its address of record.
“We own the property—they sold it, Steve still manages it,” Jaramillo says.
“Steve” refers to Railyard Co. principal Steve Duran, a plumbing contractor who was part-owner of the $17.5 million property until it was sold to DSW Santa Fe, LLC for eventual redevelopment into a hotel, according to Santa Fe County property records. Jaramillo says Duran still maintains an office on the first floor of the building, which is being used by a film production company. Railyard Co. also uses 500 Market St.—also known as Market Station, the big red building with REI and Flying Star Café—as an address, though its offices are actually in a construction trailer nearby.
Asked it he finds it odd that Railyard Co.’s principals insist on communication using Yahoo email accounts and do business out of a construction trailer, Santa Fe Railyard Community Corporation Executive Director Richard Czoski says, “You know, this is Santa Fe, and not everybody wears a coat and tie and has an office in an office building.”
While conceding the question “should be asked,” Czoski says, “You have to balance that with what they’ve accomplished, which is building a 400-space parking garage and putting up a 100,000-square-foot building. They’re four local guys who have got together to execute this project, and what I will say is that I’m sure whatever deal gets cut, the city will build in adequate safeguards to protect themselves.”
Czoski says Railyard Co. is current on its obligations to the SFRCC, which manages the Railyard on behalf of the city.
But on Sept. 25, mobile building manufacturer Williams Scotsman sued the Railyard Co. for $2,900 in unpaid rent on its modular unit at the Railyard, and for “unjust enrichment” on the grounds that Jaramillo, Duran and the Railyard Co. continue to use the unit for their own purposes outside the terms of their lease.
A suit against the Railyard Co. by parking garage subcontractor Thos S Byrne, Ltd. was refiled Oct. 14 at the 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe and now names the city as a defendant.
As for the proposed cinema, the usually fiscally conservative Councilor Ortiz defended his resolution at the Oct. 19 meeting, saying: “If we don’t do some type of assistance, we’re going to be stuck with that hole” on the site.
Ortiz tells SFR he’s known some of the Railyard Co. principals “for years—they’re locals” and insists “they’ve got the money to show they can pay [back] all the bonds.”
Ortiz also says the city could face lawsuits if it doesn’t build a cinema at the Railyard, citing documents shown to him by former City Manager (and now mayoral hopeful) Asenath Kepler. “It’s a requirement we signed off on,” he says.
Railyard Co. hoped to partner with Maya Cinemas, a California company headed by producer Moctesuma Esparza, whose film The Dry Land began shooting in New Mexico earlier this year.
Heldmeyer heard a pitch from Esparza and the Railyard Co. years ago. She concluded that Maya “makes a lot of promises they don’t fulfill” and that Railyard Co. acts basically as a front. “They come in and they sell the deal—‘Oh, we’re local guys, and you know us’—and that group has quite a bit of local clout with certain people,” Heldmeyer says.
Mayor David Coss, who co-sponsored Ortiz’ resolution, tells SFR he doubts the cinema will move forward with the Railyard Co.’s involvement.