Finally, Santa Fe has chosen a master developer for the Midtown campus. The next steps aim to iron out the shape of housing, film development, medical services and other activity envisioned there.
At a special meeting Monday night, the City Council 7-2 to enter into an "exclusive negotiation agreement" with KDC Cienda, the developer that was recommended for the project by the Midtown Selection Committee.
Councilors Renee Villarreal and Joanne Vigil Coppler voted against the contract after expressing concerns about the lack of public engagement in the process leading up to the late night vote.
Other councilors emphasized that the even after months of closed meetings, the agreement is merely to begin negotiations. Details of the development plan will be worked out over the course of the next 16 months, and, according to the contract, will include an in-depth community engagement process going forward.
"There is no master plan. There is work to be done on so many levels," said Mayor Alan Webber, noting jobs, housing and sustainability in that list.
"I just want to let everyone know that their voices will be heard," said Councilor Chris Rivera, "really we're just getting started."
To that, Councilor Sig Lindell added that the city is currently paying between $6,000 and $8,000 a day on its mortgage on the property. The city bought the campus in 2009 when the College of Santa Fe folded. Laureate Education then leased it for the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, but that school closed in 2018.
Since November, the committee has been involved in confidential deliberations on the proposals submitted by developers in response to a Request For Expressions of Interest released by the city last year.
According to the city, the committee judged the submissions on multiple criteria based on previous public engagement completed in 2018 and 2019, along with an assessment of the applicants' financial capacity and their experience on past projects of a similar scope.
These were narrowed down by the commission over the last few months. In late March, the governing body was presented with the committee's final recommendation and the proposal they submitted for the first time.
Midtown will not be the Dallas-based development firm's first project in Santa Fe. The company has also worked on Las Campanas, El Rey Court and La Fonda Hotel.
The group plans to work with a range of local organizations and businesses on the plan. These include expanding existing Garson Studios to include four to six new sound studios in collaboration with Pacifica Ventures, a company that built ABQ Studios in Albuquerque (now owned by Netflix). The campus vision also features a film program with the Santa Fe Community College and the University of New Mexico.
Christus St. Vincent Hospital plans to offer primary care services on the campus as well, and Homewise will work with the KDC team on housing. Youthworks hopes to use the commercial college kitchen on the campus to expand its own programs to create career training programs for youth.
In a video presentation by KDC Cienda Partners about their local partners on the project, Homewise CEO Mike Loftin said the campus plan will include "a whole spectrum of housing" from low income rental housing to higher end ownership housing and "everything in between." Loftin said the group also hopes to engage surrounding neighborhoods with home loan programs and other non-displacement strategies.
The campus vision includes public open space and connections to new transportation routes across the city.
All of this, though, could still be changed based on negotiations over the course of the next year that the city promises will have a greater emphasis on community engagement. According to City Attorney Erin McSherry, the city will be able to exit the agreement after six months if either party feels that "good faith negotiations" are not taking place, and as she explained to council members, reasons for breaking the agreement could include failure for adequate public participation.
Future discussions would also determine the financial details of any deal, including whether the city will ultimately lease or sell the property to KDC or any other party.
Yet many councilors still expressed discontent about the lack of public participation over the last six months and the lack of specificity in the agreement about what public participation will look like going forward.
Villarreal raised the issue, for example, that companies hired to do public engagement in the last year have dropped out of the process, and public engagement has not taken place over the last six months.
The city has already planned at least three virtual town halls will be held on the subject in coming weeks. The next public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, May 12, though no time is set.