Both the New Mexico School for the Arts and the city of Santa Fe have given up on trying to acquire the abandoned St. Catherine Indian School campus as a future home for the state charter school.
“The [arts] school has decided to proceed in another direction to fulfill its facility needs,” David Ater, a board member and chairman of the campus planning committee, said in an email Thursday.
“The St. Catherine School did not prove to be a viable option under the circumstances … ,” he added. “We are looking at several other possibilities but all of those discussions and prospects are confidential at the moment.”
Mayor David Coss, who was working with the arts school to try to purchase the 18-acre property and its 19 buildings for $1.9 million, confirmed Thursday morning that all negotiations were off.
“We shelved it,” he said of the city’s efforts. “The school for the arts informed the city that it is not able to pursue the property anymore as it is taking too long and it needs to move quicker than (property owner) Max Tafoya and company are able or willing to move on it. We don’t have a partner in restoration efforts for the property now, so we dropped it.”
The City Council was slated to discuss the issue — including the possibility of funding an appraisal of the St. Catherine property — during Wednesday’s council meeting, but struck that discussion from the agenda, Coss said.
The arts school, which opened in August 2010 in the former St. Francis Cathedral School building on the corner of East Alameda Street and Paseo de Peralta, announced last September that it was working with the city on a public/private partnership involving the the former Indian school. That plan hinged on the city purchasing the land and buildings from Tafoya, who brought the property in 2005. The arts school hoped to secure a long-term lease for the property from the city, with the school taking responsibility for upgrading, renovating and maintaining it.
The school has a four-year lease at its current site, which can comfortably accommodate about 200 students, though it has no room for its dance department. Dance students commute to the National Dance Institute of New Mexico’s Dance Barns on Alto Street for classes.
Complicating matters is the fact that earlier this year a federal grand jury issued an indictment against Tafoya and his son-in-law, Tyler Cole, charging them with attempting to defraud the government in falsely obtaining about $11 million in federal contracts that allowed Tafoya’s M.R. Tafoya Construction Inc. to obtain contracts with the Department of Veterans Affairs for work at national cemeteries in 2009 and 2012.
St. Catherine Indian School was founded in 1887 by Philadelphia philanthropist Katharine Drexel’s Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. It closed in 1998. The Santa Fe City Council and the state’s Historic Preservation Office designated most of the campus buildings as cultural landmarks in 2006.
Last year, Tafoya petitioned the City Council for permission to demolish some of the buildings, but his efforts were thwarted by the city’s Historic Districts Review Board. This past spring he filed a lawsuit against the city of Santa Fe in federal court, arguing that the city has purposefully blocked every effort he has made to develop his property.
John Polk, Tafoya’s lawyer in the case, said Thursday afternoon that the lawsuit was remanded to state court this week.
According to Polk, several appraisers have estimated the value of the property, if the buildings are razed, at $7 million to $9 million. He added that the buildings are “beyond the point of no return because the city has made it impossible to renovate it in any way.” He said he is asking for $5 million to $7 million in damages from the city.
“I doubt the city will show up with a check in hand for that amount,” he said. “This may end up in protracted litigation.”
Coss said the New Mexico School for the Arts has not asked the city’s help in obtaining another property, but he said it is to the city’s benefit to “find a location for that school soon. I don’t know where they might end up now.”
He said the city will not even pursue the idea of appraising the St. Catherine property at this point.
Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org