Santa Fe Community Convention Center Ready to Shine in Today’s Public Debut

The Santa Fe New Mexican

Our city doesn’t do things the way the rest of the world does, Darlene Griego explained as she hustled down a hallway.

“And in true Santa Fe fashion,” she continued, so evolved the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

Griego is the business manager for the city’s brand-new facility and has been a key part of its development for the last two years. She was in the middle of a swarm of workers Wednesday who were hurrying to prepare the building for its public debut today.

While some cities’ convention centers are marvels of modern architecture or are decorated like contemporary offices and hotels. Santa Fe’s is neither. Designed to mimic historic “pueblo” style, the building is full of touches that make it unique to its home.

Walnut-stained wood panels and beams line most ceilings in the public spaces of the building, from which dangle 28 tin chandeliers made by the same Pojoaque couple who created more than 150 tin light fixtures.

Bright carpets that run through major hallways carry a Southwestern pattern designed exclusively for the convention center and milled in England, Griego recites as she enters what she calls “the most special room in the building.”

“Gosh, there was so much that went into this room,” she said, pointing out the acoustic fibers between ceiling boards and other features.

The Sweeney Ballroom dwarfs most of the other large-group spaces in the city. It’s fitting that one of the first events held in the 18,000-square-foot ballroom was the Gran Baile for Fiesta de Santa Fe, the annual event in which the Fiesta Court learns who has been selected to portray La Reina and Don Diego de Vargas.

Former Mayor Larry Delgado, who was in office when the City Council decided to replace the convention center, said he was happy to attend that event in a room large enough to do it justice. “That really looks nice,” he said. “It’s great now to have a place that can take the number of people. … It’s just going to bring something really special to our community.”

The ballroom can be divided in up to five separate spaces, and other meeting rooms offer nearly 8,000 square feet of additional meeting space, including the room Griego calls the “second most special,” a boardroom with a hardwood floor and fireplace that is connected to outdoor terraces. It will be furnished with a handmade, carved wooden table.

Another feature is the building’s outdoor space. The largest of second-story terraces can accommodate 400 guests, overlooks the ground-level courtyard that faces the adjacent City Hall and is filled with raised planters.

Away from the showy public spaces is the “back of the house.” In addition to offices for the Convention and Visitors Bureau staff, the corridors behind the formal ballroom and meeting rooms include three industrial kitchens, two set up for major catering operations and one that is sized for families who want Grandma or Auntie to prepare food for an event. A series of “hot boxes” and drink stations allow catering companies to bring pre-made food as well, Griego said.

Though the building is substantially complete, the city won’t know the outcome of some goals for a few more months. Designers from Fentress Architects and Spears Architects aimed for silver standard certification from the U.S. Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design effort, but they won’t know if they earned that designation until later. The city has to provide documents about energy use for review, Griego said.

Also up in the air are some plans for art in the building. The city allocated more than $453,000 of the building’s $63 million budget for art. Many pieces are commissioned to local artists, but not all are complete and a project planned for the parking garage has not been finalized.

Among coming attractions is an outdoor sculpture of large Rio Grande trout that is due for installation in the spring. A clay relief by Roxanne Swentzell will fill the largest wall of the main lobby; it is not expected for about a year.

A community art gallery that will be run by the city is also not completely open, but gallery manager Rod Lambert said Wednesday that the first show there will open next month.

The building replaces the city’s former convention center, which was a converted high-school gymnasium on the same site.