Beneath a warm June afternoon sun, Abey Torrez surveys the thorny, trashed, overgrown reason he was drawn to buy a house on Calle Nueva Vista in this Southside neighborhood six years ago.
He'd been promised a park, a place he could play with his grandchildren. For the last five years, Torrez has been leaning on the city to deliver.
Now, it’s finally happening: The city of Santa Fe has been working on a plan for the space for the last six weeks and the park that wasn’t really a park is about to be spruced up and given a title, according to the city.
There's a price tag for renovations now, and a city spokeswoman tells SFR that officials plan to see the park into reality. But city councilors say there's still work to be done to make that a reality.
Torrez was one of the first buyers on Calle Nueva Vista. He used the area designated as a park with the little ones in his life until it became too uncomfortable and dangerous to do so, after neither the developers nor the city nor District 4 councilors were able to or wanted to take responsibility for it.
On June 6, there was a giant anthill, thigh-high grass, trash littered throughout and trees growing through the basketball court, pushing up the edges of the concrete. There’s still a colorful playground, but parts are missing and it’s surrounded by refuse and thorny grass. A shredded basketball net, which Torrez put up, hangs limply in the air. He also picks up trash in the medians on his street and trims the branches of the trees there himself.
Torrez says the last time he saw the city here mowing was about a year and a half ago. But on June 7, less than 24 hours after SFR started asking around about the future of the park, the city showed up to mow in the morning.
But such is the saga of the sort-of-forgotten park that’s never really been a park. The developers who originally wanted to build out the area went bankrupt in 2014, leaving the space, just shy of an acre, in limbo.
The developers had struck a deal to get the park up to city standards, and then the city would take it over. But the developers weren’t able to fix up the space enough before a foreclosure proceeding. For the last six years, city officials say there just hasn’t been enough money to improve or satisfactorily maintain it.
“I wish the city would do something to keep our kids safe. You see the kids trying to high-step to the basketball court; it’s pretty sad to watch them try to high-step through there,” Torrez says. “You go to the north side, where more of the money is, the parks are immaculate. They run their sprinklers, they’re lush, green; then you come to the Southside, which they don’t really care about too much, I say, and you see this.”
Torrez says he offered to the city that the residents do the work and the city foot the bill to fix up the park. He also tried to set up a homeowners’ association to have more power in influencing the city. But none of it went forward—until now.
After years of going back and forth with email-responsive councilors and officials but going nowhere in terms of fixing up the area, Torrez may be on the verge of seeing this Southside park get its own name.
Through a recent review of the city master plan, officials have recently established that the park does, in fact, belong to the city, according to City of Santa Fe spokeswoman Lilia Chacon. When asked why now, after six years of residents trying to get basic maintenance, Chacon said it was “in response to neighborhood concerns.”
Torrez told SFR the last time he spoke to the city about the park was eight or nine months ago.
“It was abandoned by the developer who never completed the park or playground. It needs to be finished and upgraded, and made compliant with ADA requirements. Our Parks people are working on making this happen,” Chacon tells SFR via email.
The park’s tentative name, “Dusty Dawson Park,” comes through help from District 3 Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, Chacon says. Even though the park is in District 4, Abeyta was contacted by a family that lives in the neighborhood.
The puzzle has a ways to go before it makes sense to the eye, District 4 Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler tells SFR.
“There have been some site visits from staff to review storm and drainage, and Land Use is trying to figure out how the city can get the park up to par. It will take budget requests because it’s not in the [city’s master] plan. I’m not sure realistically how quickly more improvements can be happening,” Koppler says.
On Friday, the day after SFR visited the park to speak with Torrez, the city mowed the space and released a statement that said the city is “in the process” of seeing exactly what improvements need to be made. Several departments are involved, including Water and Drainage, Parks and Recreation, Safety and Streets, and Constituent and Council Services.
“I hadn’t seen anyone out there [for the last six weeks]. I was very surprised when I saw the workers out there this morning. I asked a worker who sent them out there and they said the Parks and Recreation Department,” Torrez tells SFR.
The restoration costs—a figure that’s never been public before—are estimated between $40,000 and $60,000 to make necessary improvements, including Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. The project will have to work through the Capital Improvements Project to fund the rehabilitation and it still has to go through a vote in the City Council.
The parks are not budgeted individually for maintenance, so the city will be “squeezing in the cleaning and upkeep for this one,” according to Chacon.
“We are taking the steps to make it really ours,” says Parks and Recreation Director John Muñoz. “We have a whole army of people out there trying to revive this little park.”
Katherine is a Florida native in Santa Fe to cover the texture and life of the city's Southside using writing, photography, videography and audio. She's a grant-funded fellow in the Report for America program and her work is underwritten by the Brindle and McCune foundations, Enterprise Bank and Hutton Broadcasting.