It's taken decades for the Santa Fe Railyard to move from a collection of repurposed warehouses in a dusty corridor to a sleek public space with new places to work, play, and see and do—most of it happening in just the last decade.
As the development phase for the city-owned land gets close to completion, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber is calling for a reconsideration he calls “Railyard 2.0.”
SFRCC’s goal, Czoski says, was to bring the master plan for the space that came from a laborious, years-long planning process to fruition. And today, all but three of 42 commercial ground spaces are leased for projects whose managers in turn find tenants for their new buildings. Those that remain are under letter of intent.
SFRCC has leased the city space through 2030. Already, payments to the city for its master lease have made good on the bonds issued to buy the property, and are now whittling down the loan on infrastructure to kick off the development. By 2030, the nonprofit's payments of about $1 million per year are expected to have erased all those debts and be contributing to the city coffers, Czoski says.
The problem child is the Market Station building. The spot that's supposed to be the anchor of the Railyard is responsible for 90 percent of the Railyard's 7 percent overall vacancy rate in completed buildings, he says. The building came through a bankruptcy and has for the last year been owned by a California firm which recently retained a new local leasing agent.
Because the master plan gives preference to local tenants, the SFRCC board of directors can veto prospective users. To date, however, it has approved more than 70 subtenants for the spot, and Czoski says it's not clear to him why the building remains unleased. He acknowledges those empty storefronts leave a poor impression.
"I think it is a question of perception," he says, "and the perception of much of the public is that the Railyard is not fulfilling its potential or has been a failure in some respects. And I think the perception depends on what your point of view is about what the Railyard should be. Should it be what is envisioned in the master plan, or should it be a vibrant commercial center like Albuquerque Uptown? The Railyard was never meant to be Uptown."
Some onlookers who are more closely following the project say it's an exciting time.
"I am feeling more optimistic than I ever have," says Cyndi Conn, director of Creative Santa Fe, a nonprofit that has worked on walkability in the downtown area, among other initiatives. "I feel like the area is becoming what we wanted the city downtown vibrancy to look like. It has really become something that locals live in and take pride in an walk around in."
Although Webber late last year suggested some new board members for the independent nonprofit and none of those people were subsequently invited to join the board, the mayor tells SFR he doesn't have a quibble with the way the corporation is fulfilling the plan. He noted the city Economic Development director has scheduled a "visioning meeting" with principals later this month. While that won't be a public session, he says it's not intended to move toward renegotiating the agreement with the nonprofit or changing the "local preference clause"—at least for now.