Observing the shift

Santa Fe New Mexico is by many measures a smallish town. We are well-known by name and cherished by many current and future residents. Some say millions visit Santa Fe every year, making it feel much larger, but those visitors stay and then leave. Other residents only live here part-time. So you could say we are small. We can be backward or slow to adapt if you ask some folks. And we seem not very interested in making our city more like the others across the west. Our unique history and multi-cultural residents seem to prefer to be special and not just a part of the herd.

But Santa Fe continues to shift toward a more homogeneous look and make up. Its only the latest, but a good example is the new commercial center announced this week that is just now underway on both sides of the “bypass” (aka NM 599 – and it has other names) near the airport and on the western edge of Tierra Contenta. The Santa Fe New Mexican displayed photos and sketches showing the location and the work now underway for a new overpass of the 4 lane divided highway we call the bypass, just south of the Airport Road intersection. Can you imagine the parking lot lights filling the night sky with an artificial glow? What a shame to kill the starlight so you can see the curbs at the edge of the lot.

This newcomer will directly compete with all vacant and available spaces that are commercially zoned all over town, plus Las Soleras, a large development in arrowhead shaped parcel near the Outlet Mall at the Cerrillos and I-25 interchange. That development, now building after years of preparation, is partially leased and sold. Guess I could turn this post into a review of commercial space, but my point is that the newly announced project and the one just mentioned are great examples of how the middle of Santa Fe is shifting toward the South and West. When the big boxes went up along Zafarano, with Target as one of its most visible pieces, we felt a shift then. Much of the everyday shopping locations were being added in the South and West section of town while the original downtown area was becoming more and more of a place for visitors to spend money, the large hotels and our convention center plus food and drink places galore. And of course the Canyon Road area and the art world and museums that are so important to Santa Fe, both locals and visitors.

So the shift continues apace. The project next to the bypass is, according to the article, a 20 year build out. I guess that presumes that the economy is stable and Santa Fe keeps growing. Because what could possibly be built there that we don’t already have somewhere else in town? More motel rooms, some national brand food choices and I guess I am not sure what else will show up. Maybe a big department store or another huge home improvement outlet. And maybe another dozen movie screens? I am not against the development at all. I just am not sure where the demand is coming from. But in a healthy economy and steady growth, available spaces go fast so maybe 20 years is realistic. I think I might be retired by then.

The heart of Santa Fe is probably just about a block from where you live. That could be north or south or in any neighborhood you define. But the center of town is shifting, as has been the case since the Villa Linda Mall opened many years ago (now known as Santa Fe Place). Some of us old timers remember Rodeo Rd and Airport Rd as dirt tracks. Then the pavement or asphalt showed up and we had a hard surface 2 lane road. Now those two roads, pointing West, handle thousands of vehicles a day and probably will need to be expanded someday to handle all the traffic headed to the new shopping areas.

The old news articles from the days of the new highway mentioned assurances (by whom?) that the bypass would not be surrounded by commercial development as one would travel its length. But why would that ever hold true? The interchanges have evolved and increased to make it  more dollar friendly and safer. Landowners want highest & best use and shopping is popularly just off a divided highway interchange. This new one just happens to cost about $7 million said the quote. The price of an added interchange has risen from $1 million in the ’70s.

It can be and is exciting to see developments announced. Thank you for the strong optimism about our town’s future. It reminds me of the ’80s and ’90s when the local papers were constantly printing the latest new development venture. And it is also a bit terrifying how all of the residents and visitors who would shop and spend money at these centers will expect a water hookup at their home and we will all continue to tap resources of safe drinking water. The City, not long ago, required developers to bring legally owned water to obtain approval of their proposed projects. The backing behind the project maybe already has pledged water rights sufficient to guaranty water service to the entire roster. Shouldn’t we be asking those questions?

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