Downtown Dispute

Historic building advocates want state to rethink demolition that would make way for future office building

State planners are headed back to the City of Santa Fe’s Historic Districts Review Board next month to request the demolition of several buildings following an outreach event Thursday night.

It’s not clear, however, if any of the ideas for a new state office complex downtown will change after a meeting between architecture and history advocates and New Mexico General Services Department agents JenkinsGavin, Inc. to discuss the proposed plans.

The H-Board was slated to hear the cases at its Jan. 9 meeting, but told the state it needed to meet with “identifiable community groups involved in historic preservation” first.

State officials have discussed constructing a new executive office building for more than a decade, and the latest concept calls for a structure that’s up to 190,000 square feet, including a multi-level parking garage, but GSD Deputy Secretary Anna Silva told attendees the state has not moved to its design phase yet. First, it seeks the city’s green light for demolition of a motor pool building; a maintenance building and garage; the Concha Ortiz Y Pino Building and four historic casitas off Don Gaspar Avenue.

The demolition of the homes has caused the most heartburn among project opponents. Last May, the board upgraded the status of the 1961 Concha Ortiz y Pino Building and the homes which date back to the 1930s as “contributing,” giving them more protections under the city code.

John Eddy, a member of the Old Santa Fe Association, said the state should develop alternative options. However, it appears state officials have determined “those buildings already don’t exist,” he said.

“Those houses—they are small—contain history. They are part of a continuum of a residential area, what we call the South Capitol. These houses were residences of people that worked on the Plaza,” Eddy said. “We are at the very bottom here of this discussion and I’m hoping we can elevate it by trying to encourage the state to come at this from another direction knowing we are concerned about this. What if we can keep these buildings? What would that look like?”

Hilario Romero, a former state historian, cited multiple times the state took similar steps, including when it dug up and moved a cemetery where his great great grandfather was buried for a parking lot and the PERA building.

“That’s what we never want to see again. We are sick and tired of that kind of stuff that goes on,” Romero said. “You can see how personal it is to me to see that behavior on the part of the state, the city, to do these kinds of things. They have no respect for the historic district, and that’s the way I feel…Those houses need to remain.”

Silva didn’t commit to changing the direction of the proposal, however.

“I know that this is a very important topic. I, like you, have family that has been here for generations. I, too, am very passionate about Santa Fe. I don’t want you to think it’s lost on me how important keeping our history in some way, or the concept of our history, alive, so I want you to know that,” she said. “We’ll make sure we will go through the entire process, regardless of where we end up, and we are all going to get there together. We can do it painfully or not, but I prefer we do it as friends. We may disagree, and that’s okay.”

If the Historic Districts Review Board does not approve of demolitions, the state will create a special review board for the project involving stakeholders. Officials have not confirmed a date for the hearing next month, but Silva tells SFR she expects they will be on the agenda. FBT Architects, an Albuquerque-based firm, won’t likely finalize design plans until late this year, she adds.

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