Three master developers have made the short list for the Midtown campus project, emerging from a group of 21 proposals the city of Santa Fe received in October for the final round of consideration, officials announced Tuesday.
The city confirmed that Central Park Santa Fe, KDC Real Estate Development & Investments/Cienda Partners and Raffles Education Corp made the cut after proposals were evaluated by the Midtown Campus steering committee, composed of city division directors, along Daniel Hernandez, the Midtown project manager.
A news release from City Hall promises the "mixed-use development" will include a list of elements that were identified as important to local residents through a community input sessions conducted last year. These include affordable housing, higher education, space for local businesses and tech development, film industry and green space.
But none of the three chosen master developers have experience developing projects that meet all of these objectives.
The city has remained extremely secretive about the proposals' contents, claiming that the procurement process "requires confidentiality." Could the developers' records of past projects hold clues to what might be in store for Santa Fe?
Here's a look at the three finalists.
Central Park Santa Fe
Central Park Santa Fe is the brainchild of Allan Affeldt, a developer who has made a name for himself through the restoration of historic properties in forgotten Western railroad towns. Affeldt's foray into saving abandoned architectural gems from the heyday of America's railroad era began with the La Posada hotel and hacienda in Winslow, Arizona, in 1993. Affeldt's next projects included La Castañeda and The Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and most recently the Legal Tender Saloon in Lamy.
These past projects suggest that if Central Park bags the project, it will be designed with an eye toward the city's historic style. Luckily, unlike the other two proposals which have been kept secret by the developers, we know some of the details of the Central Park Santa Fe proposal thanks to information Affeldt shared with the Albuquerque Journal before the city told players to keep their proposals confidential.
Last year the Journal reported that the proposal includes multiple parks, an amphitheater, a tech center, over 1,000 housing units and a satellite University of New Mexico program in film and digital technology. The project also proposes to build a small-scale independent energy system known as a micro-grid to power the development.
The Journal reported that the Central Park Santa Fe proposal involves a team of 40 individuals who are powerhouses in Santa Fe's business, innovation and arts arenas. These include Kim Shanahan, former head of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association; Mark Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Descartes Labs; Bill Smith, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Community Foundation; Cyndi Conn, executive director of Creative Santa Fe; and representatives with New Mexico Bank & Trust and Century Bank, George RR Martin's Stagecoach Foundation and Theatre Santa Fe.
Little has been unearthed about the proposal by KDC Real Estate Development and Investments, a corporate development firm based in Dallas, Texas. Representatives from the company did not respond to SFR's request for an interview.
However, the firm's record almost exclusively consists of large-scale developments of corporate office projects, multi-use luxury housing and office suite developments and medical complexes. Nearly all of the projects featured on the company website are huge multi-story edifices that include the tallest building in Dallas and Toyota Motors North American Headquarters in Plano, Texas. Most of the company's projects feature modern glass facades and neatly arranged outdoor gardens.
One exception to the company's corporate portfolio is the development of a Dallas subdivision. The modern townhouses came with price tags ranging from $500,000 to more than $800,000.
The company's previous work suggests that its proposal may focus on office space and the development of Santa Fe's tech industry along with upscale modern housing and retail space.
In a phone call with SFR, Santa Fe architect Mark Hogan is the only local to confirm his spot on the KDC team.
Hogan has experience working on city planning projects, as well as local hotels and businesses. He worked on the Parks and Recreation Master Plan as the chairman of the city's Parks Advisory Committee, and is former Projects Division director for Santa Fe County.
Raffles Education Corp.
Perhaps the most surprising name to end up on the city's short list is Raffles Education Corp.
This is not the first time the for-profit education company has put in a bid for the property. Raffles almost acquired the campus in a partnership with UNM after the Santa Fe University of Art and Design announced its plans to shut down in 2016, but the deal fell through at the last minute.
The company operates 22 colleges in 12 countries. Most campuses are in Asia; two are in Europe. According to the company website, students can transfer between campuses throughout their period of study. The company offers courses in design, fashion and business management, and has produced a handful of internationally known designers since it opened in 1990.
For those who would like to see Midtown remain an educational institution, the transition to an international design school might seem like a welcome proposition.
But the company's record of managing college campuses in cities across the world is checkered.
When the corporation announced its intention to buy the Santa Fe University of Art and Design campus, SFR wrote a story revealing the company's record of lawsuits and regulatory violations that have lead to the closures of least seven campuses in countries across the world.
In 2016, the Raffles College of Design and Commerce in Australia lost accreditation from that nation's higher education agency for failing to meet Australian educational standards. The college left Australia in 2018.
Raffles has closed campuses in six other cities in southeast Asia for similar reasons.
"Students of a city design school have been left in the lurch after the school, which offers graduate and diploma courses, closed down without any notice," states a story that appeared in The Hindu newspaper in 2016 about the closure of the Raffles Millennium International college in Bangalore, India. Some students who had already graduated from the college discovered that their graduation certificates were invalid.
Despite these issues, the city of Santa Fe expressed confidence in the company's proposal to buy the SFUAD campus in 2016.