City of Santa Fe officials say they have embarked on a multi-tiered response to concerns raised recently by merchants in the Guadalupe Street area about a downturn in business and vibrancy. The city is now eying requests from the neighborhood for increased signage, lowered parking rates, pedestrian improvements and public safety redress.
As reported by SFR last month, numerous businesses say they are experiencing a significant downturn in the wake of Sanbusco Center's closure in 2016, the city's hike in metered parking costs and the onset last spring of construction for the New Mexico School for the Arts. The school's anticipated opening next year followed by the New Mexico Museum of Art's Vladem Contemporary on Montezuma Avenue in 2020 may revitalize the area, but business owners say they need help to ride out the transition.
City officials, including Mayor Alan Webber and directors in charge of economic development, public works, parking, engineering and other services, met with businesses in mid-September to hear their concerns and requests.
Webber describes one positive outcome of the meeting as the neighborhood's uniting in the face of its shared struggle.
"I think the good news is that folks in the business district of Guadalupe pulled together the meeting. It's a credit to them for getting the meeting together, and they used the opportunity to get to know each other better … Also as a result of the gathering, they began to think about solutions they could be responsible for; the initial instinct is, 'We have a problem, let's get the city to fix it for us,' and the takeaway from it was, we have a transition going, we have to get through this transition, and how can the city and the neighborhood and members collaborate on solutions that are generated by both sides," the mayor says.
Christian Nardi, owner of Bee Hive children's bookstore, who initiated the meeting after reaching out to Webber, shared with SFR a list of requests presented to the city. These included short-term requests such as reduced weekday metered parking, free Saturday parking, and improvements for wayfinding from the Railyard to Guadalupe Street in the wake of barriers presented by the NMSA construction. They have also requested the city reroute its shuttle that ferries Railrunner passengers directly out of the neighborhood, and asked for better communication about construction and other events impacting their neighborhood. In the long-term, the neighbors want the city to assist in helping to brand and promote the area.
Matt Brown, director of the city's Office of Economic Development, says the response to the neighborhood's needs will be spread across departments, and that the team working on the issues has already met internally following the meeting with the neighboring businesses.
"It's a cross-functional team that we've assembled … and a really great opportunity for us to work collaboratively internally and work externally with the Guadalupe street association," he says.
The group is looking at a "six to eight week roadmap of a series of working sessions," to create an action plan " that articulates what will the government do and what will businesses do, and then we will work on that together, in the spirit of a real collaboration," he says. Brown says the cross-departmental approach is one the city hopes to pilot and use across the city in various neighborhoods. "For me, the next [neighborhood] would be in the Airport Road area, that one for us had been highlighted as having some tough economic issues, so we want to replicate what we are going to do [in the Guadalupe area].
Brown, who came on the job a year ago, says he also hopes to implement an economic development navigator initiative used in Albuquerque that helps assess and respond to business needs.
As for the specific requests on the table in the Guadalupe area, Brown says he expects to have some responses in the next week or so, including "some experiments" with parking. Signage requests may prove more complicated than one might think, he says.
"I can say we're earnestly looking at those things on the signage side," he says. "I suspect what's going to happen is we're going to have to look at the ordinances that are guiding that right now, and see if there's some possible changes that would help not only the Guadalupe street area but, more broadly, I've been hearing since coming on as the director of economic development a lot of concerns from all around the city about restrictions on signage," he says.
Sidewalks signs also present challenges. "They're super helpful for the businesses," he says, "but depending on where they are, they can violate [the American with Disabilities Act], and they also create possible tripping hazards, which creates legal liability for the businesses and tangentially for the city … so we have to grapple with what other alternatives are there and get more creative [to determine] how else do we create helpful signage opportunities that don't violate federal laws."
The meeting also revisited a 2013 initiative initiated by Guadalupe area organization Creative Santa Fe, Walk [Santa Fe], which prototyped various wayfinding signage, hosted public conversations and brought in national speakers to improve Santa Fe's pedestrian resources. Specifically, the project sought to help people navigate throughout the downtown, Guadalupe and Railyard areas. Part of a national Walk initiative, Santa Fe's culminated with the recommendation that the city create 10 to 20 permanent signs within the Railyard and Plaza area that clearly state walking distances between both city centers, as well as notable civic, institutional and public spaces. It also recommended the city create three to five permanent maps with directories in the areas.
Creative Santa Fe Executive Director Cyndi Conn, who attended the joint meeting between the neighborhood and the city, says the plan, which had more than 80 community partners "just got killed in certain places in the city and so we shelved the project." Nonetheless, the type of wayfinding proposed would help make the area more walkable, which would help local businesses.
"There is so much data that shows when places are more walkable, people stop in stores and they spend more money because it's more accessible—to locals and tourists alike," she says.
The meeting also raised concerns about the maintenance and safety in the area. In particular, attendees said DeVargas Park has become increasingly unseemly, whereas on the Railyard side, three sexual assaults have been reported in the area in the last few months.
An email written Webber following the meeting notes distributed by staff described the concerns expressed as:
"There were complaints of 'laundry' being put out to dry on the shrubs and bushes at the co-working facility [Co-Fe], use of the bathroom facilities in the building, and other issues of public drunkenness and related problems. At the other end of the corridor, in the Railyard Park, there was a complaint about a recent rape in broad daylight, where, as told as a story in the meeting, the officer who responded to the call found the rapist still on top of his victim in the park and 'kicked him with his foot and told him to get lost.' This sounded incredible when it was told—but it reinforced the general feeling in the room that the park isn't safe, has become a haven for alcohol and drug users, and hasn't been properly patrolled."
City Manager Erik Litzenberg says a meeting this week between the city and Railyard constituents, such as Violet Crown, the Railyard Park Conservancy and the Railyard Corporation is intended to hear concerns about the area and "see how it's evolving and see how the community can respond to it, so it's not an isolated city response, we're trying to bring in all of the partners and figure out our best approach to surveil the neighborhood."
As far as DeVargas Park goes, Litzenberg says "right now they're doing some strategic surveillance of the DeVargas area to get a handle on what's happening."
In response to questions about the alleged rape incident described from the meeting, Litzenberg says he asked City Police Chief Andrew Padilla about it and "I think he believes there are personnel issues that need to be addressed."
As the city begins delving into the concerns from the area, Bee Hive owner Nardi says the neighborhood has certainly come together. They have branded together as the Guadalupe Street Association, a website and mailing list has been created, and regular discussions are underway.
"I'm super grateful there was such a great response not just from the business owners but from the city for sure," Nardi says. Nonetheless, there is still the reality of trying to stay afloat. "I'm fighting for my business here, nothing has changed for me … so, I'm super grateful and I'm hopeful things will continue to progress, but for my particular situation, I don't have an option but for them to progress or else, no more Bee Hive."