New MRA Director Joins Midtown Effort

The City of Santa Fe hires Karen Iverson to oversee advisory commission, help create development plan

The Midtown redevelopment project will be the first task for a new Metropolitan Redevelopment Area director at the City of Santa Fe, officials announced Thursday.

Urban planner and real estate developer Karen Iverson’s new job includes taking on a leadership role in the future of the city-owned Midtown Campus parcel, but also heading up the city’s planning efforts for the surrounding area.

In a nutshell, state statute allows municipalities to designate blighted or under-used areas as MRAs in order to establish public/private partnerships that don’t violate the state anti-donation clause, and to access additional federal cash.

Mayor Alan Webber tells SFR one of the MRA director’s assignments will be “to produce a map that describes what the actual area is, and then begin the work of using the MRA as a vehicle to apply financing and resources so that the adjacent neighborhoods and areas around Midtown are stabilized and benefit from Midtown moving forward.”

City Council took steps last summer to create the formal MRA designation for the Midtown Campus as a way to access additional funding channels and manage the project with the oversight of a commission. And Iverson knows plenty about the mechanism—she launched the City of Albuquerque’s MRA, titled the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency.

“It’s a really broad tool set that at the state level, allows the local community to decide what kinds of tools to implement, and we’ll be going through that process with the local community as we set up the new MRA commission and are looking at designating potential areas for reinvestment,” Iverson tells SFR.

Iverson boasts over 20 years of experience in real estate development and planning. The Albuquerque native started her career organizing community and environmental groups to negotiate community benefit agreements on developments in southern California. Later, she worked with the Portland Development Commission while she received her master’s degree in urban planning and real estate development from Portland State University. She also spent four years as Regional Housing Alliance executive director in Durango, Colorado.

The Albuquerque agency brought in about $160 million for its “development pipeline” under her tenure, she says, including $40 million of funding for the Rail Trail project.

Iverson says paying for Santa Fe’s Midtown project will require similar efforts. City officials estimate the infrastructure alone will cost $30 million over the next 10 to 15 years.

The city bought the Midtown site in 2009 for $29.6 million, then leased it to Laureate Education, a for-profit business which opened the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design that closed in 2018. At that point, the city turned its attention to a large-scale redevelopment of the site as a means to pay off the purchase debt and create community services. It sought bids for “master developers” and entered into an exclusive negotiation agreement that later fell through. The city then decided to take the reins, and a redevelopment effort has taken shape. City Council approved a community development plan in February after a series of public engagement meetings.

The council will next appoint members to the commission, and Iverson, who will be paid a salary of $109,999, will oversee its operations. While the city might apply the designation to other areas in the future, for now, its main mission will be ongoing planning, preservation and redevelopment of the Midtown area. Contract Midtown Project Manager Daniel Hernandez and Asset Development Manager Lee Logston, also a staff member, report to Iverson.

The city’s enabling legislation also calls for the five-member commission to carry out studies and analyses of financial and structuring options, as well as approve leases. The commission will conduct its work “with an emphasis throughout the process on public engagement,” according to a press release from the city. Iverson says this is yet another reason she’s the right fit for the job.

“I have a strong background in both real estate development and working with a community and ensuring that development includes both the participation of the local community and benefits to the local community,” Iverson says. “I’m really excited about this Midtown project as an opportunity to blend that experience and create a project that everyone can be proud of.”

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