Economy Stalls Downtown Land Redevelopment; Plan to Convert Old Hospital into Hotel Continues

 
The New Mexican

The long-discussed redevelopment of Archdiocese of Santa Fe land in downtown Santa Fe is on hold. A nearby hotel proposal, however, is still moving ahead.

The archdiocese last year leased 5.5 acres adjoining the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi to Hunt Development Corp. of El Paso for a proposed retail and residential complex. But as recently as last month, company representatives told the city’s Land Use Department that they won’t be submitting plans any time soon.

“The words they used are, ‘It is paused,’ ” said Tamara Baer, a planning manager for the city.

Bear said the city learned of the pause when it invited Hunt to a meeting with a separate company that intends to develop the nearby former St. Vincent Hospital and Marian Hall property into a hotel.

Hunt officials were unavailable for comment last week.

The Drury Inn development continues to work its way through the city’s review process. The hotel chain wants to create new downtown lodging in the multistory 1950s John Gaw Meem building that once housed the hospital and then a nursing home, as well as the older three-story brick Marian Hall along Palace Avenue.

Although the city asked Drury and Hunt to work together so the proposed projects could offer pedestrian connections as a unit, Drury project manager Brian Nenninger said the hotel plans remain unaffected by the news.

“We can have what Hunt had planned, or something totally different, and we will still have quite a lot of opportunities to connect our development with a new development’s pedestrian areas,” he said Friday.

The Historic Design Review Board has already debated whether proposed additions to the hospital building would comply with rules about preservation, but Nenninger said recent changes to the plan make the proposed additions seem less massive.

The hotel chain had heard about Hunt’s slowdown earlier, Nenninger said, and attributed the news to financial challenges.

“From our side, we hope that they can go forward, but I understand the economy is what it is,” he said.

Hunt’s project began with the archdiocese going through a contentious public process to determine an appropriate “building envelope.” Planners got permission to make 15 percent of the new building area three stories tall.

Retail, restaurant and home spaces were mapped out, including renovation of the St. Francis Cathedral School into loft housing. The project originally was expected to include a hotel, but that idea was scrapped after Drury made its plans public.

Archdiocese finance director Jim Cutropia did not return a phone message Friday afternoon, but he has said earlier that the church would use revenue from the redevelopment project to pay for the new regional Roman Catholic elementary school that opened south of town in 2006.