By KAY MATTHEWS
Rumors have been flying that Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) wants to develop the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design (previously the College of St. Michael’s and the College of Santa Fe) campus, which is owned by the City of Santa Fe, as an auxiliary Lab for research and development and housing for employees.
The first I heard about this possibility was in a press release from Greg Mello of Los Alamos Study Group alerting the public to the presentation by Central Park Santa Fe on Sunday, December 8 at Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe on its bid to develop the site. The city, under a “Request for Expressions of Interest” received 21 applicants under four categories: master developer to oversee the entire campus; project developer to focus on a certain section or buildings on campus; master lessee; and building tenant. Of those, seven applications fell under the master plan category. Central Park Santa Fe is one of the seven groups, as is the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees LANL.
Developer Allen Affeldt, Central Park Santa Fe spokesman, told the crowd (the place was packed as part of Collected Works’ Journey Santa Fe series) that he put together a team of 40 local experts to help him develop a master plan proposal for the 64 acre site. Affeldt’s resume includes the restoration of the Plaza and Casteñada hotels in Las Vegas, New Mexico, the Legal Tender in Lamy, and other work out of state.
Affeldt has no formal connection with LANL, but in an Albuquerque Journal North article, he is quoted saying, “We have important lab presences and we have a tech presence, but we have no spin-offs from that. We can change the reputation of this state to show its high-tech potential, because we’re not capturing that right now.”
In the same article, the Los Alamos Field Office of the NNSA was quoted: “Having a new campus – midway between New Mexico’s two national laboratories – to house professional staff, scientists and engineers in partnership with the City of Santa Fe would be very beneficial. Given NNSA’s strong financial commitment to the State of New Mexico in the coming decade and the urgent need for additional mission space, the Midtown Campus is a logical choice to investigate.”
A spokeswoman for the Field Office claimed that no radiological activities would be performed on the Santa Fe campus. But the new campus would be part of a larger complex to support the Los Alamos facility’s assignment to build 30 new nuclear warhead cores or “pits” per year. It also fits into the proposed new road corridors leading directly from Santa Fe, across the Rio Grande, to Los Alamos, as part of the “New Mexico Innovation Triangle.” Santa Fe Innovation Village, LLC, a partner of Central Park Santa Fe, wants to make Santa Fe one of three proposed “villages” that would make up the triangle to include Los Alamos and Albuquerque. In Mello’s press release he cautioned the city about “falling under LANL’s spell” or “capital investment” that may have unanticipated consequences.
According to Affeldt, his plan for the former college site is “not driven by capital return” but by the need to collaborate with governments and foundations to design a sustainable project. This “urban density development” can incorporate multiple uses that include transportation, parking, power and water development, cultural and academic opportunities, recreation, affordable housing, industry, and parks.
Slides provided an overview of what the site looks like now. There are one-half million square feet of empty buildings on the site: former dormitories, classrooms, offices, the Greer Garson Theater, and small apartments. He referred to most of it as “brutalic architecture,” with a few buildings that are archeologically significant. There are only two roads into the campus: from St. Michael’s Drive near Cerrillos, and Siringo Road near Santa Fe High School. According to Affedlt, the city is currently spending $10,000 a day to maintain this unused site.
Affeldt emphasized that any sustainable development needs to be one of urban density, with much of the needed resources, like transportation, power and water, developed on site. Within this urban area people can work, live, walk, and recreate. He claimed his team of experts collaborating on this project can figure out how to put all these uses together “synergistically.”
He spelled out specific uses for each area of the site in another series of slides. On the western side of the property, where the Greer Garson Theater is located, the proposal calls for a cultural and performance center. The theater could be used as a film production site as well, to keep the burgeoning film industry in Santa Fe. Parking for these kinds of activities would be kept on the perimeter of the site, near the entrance from St. Michael’s Drive, to maintain the interior of the site pedestrian friendly.
Academic use of the site would be encouraged: the United World College is looking for a site in Santa Fe, and the University of New Mexico could quickly develop an adjunct program here. Existing buildings could be used as office space for technological firms. Without a prompt, he told the audience “he doesn’t work for LANL . . . and was not going to build a laboratory.” Many other industries such the health care industry, could use the existing buildings or design their own.
Because the master plan calls for urban density development, potential housing would focus on townhouses, four or five stories high (the city’s height restriction), of apartments or studios focused on “intergenerational living.” The small, existing apartments could be renovated as studios for co-housing with common areas for cooking. He showed slides of the work of the prominent New Mexican architect, Antoine Predock, who has previously designed innovative living apartments and who is part of the development team. A 200 room hotel is also planned.
The southeastern side of the campus is partially owned by the United States Forest Service, and Affeldt’s team is currently negotiating to buy that property to provide access from Camino Carlos Rey. The team envisions a plaza on this side of the campus to supplement Santa Fe’s main plaza, with Franklin Miles Park, on the south side, as the anchor. Here, a festival park, with a stage, could offer a venue for bands that now go to Taos or Albuquerque (he pointed out that the only other outdoor concert venue in the city, Palo Soleri, shut down years ago).
The plan envisions six ways in and out of the site if the team is able to acquire additional city and state properties on the south side. The Albuquerque Journal reported on Monday, December 9, that the City Council’s Public Works Committee voted to pursue a land swap with the state that would transfer five tracts of property—19.6 acres—that border the campus on the Siringo side to the city. The swap has not been approved by the full council or the state.
One of the first questions asked during the question and answer period was how Affeldt would be able to provide affordable housing. His answer was that there has to be community equity involved in the project: city government has to be a partner with the developer. Another question was tied to this one: if a project like this, even if it can provide affordable housing, contributes to the increase of adjacent property values, how can gentrification be avoided? The answer was largely theoretical: if the high unemployment neighborhoods adjacent to the site accrue value from this project they need to work in concert with the Housing Trust and community foundations like the Santa Fe Community Foundation to maintain affordability.
A woman in the audience again brought up the issue of LANL, asking if the Lab would have a presence here. Affeldt answered that he was a former anti-war activist who doesn’t want to see any nuclear activity here but can’t legally say that “spin-offs” from LANL could be prevented from locating here.
Finally, in response to a question about community input to this project, Affeldt claimed that the city has “done a lot of input into this.” He said the city will make its decision by January 15 of 2020, but it will probably take months beyond that to finalize an agreement.
I called Kevin Kellogg, who oversees the campus for the city, to ask about the Lab’s “Request for Expressions of Interest ” and if and how the city has solicited input from the community on the campus’s potential development, but he didn’t return my call or respond to an e-mail.