The Santa Fe Indian School on Tuesday made its first major public statement on the proposed development on its campus abutting Cerrillos Road and promised that its plans would not include a casino or alcohol and tobacco sales.
School officials had stonewalled the media, the public and government agencies about their plans since August 2008, when they began razing 15 historic buildings, some of them dating to the 1800s.
But now school officials seem to be more willing to make their plans public in exchange for congressional permission to use the property for commercial purposes.
Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives included such language in a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M. But the bill faces some opposition in the Senate from outgoing U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.
On Tuesday, the school’s public relations consultant, Edward Calabaza, issued a news release that said the board of trustees is convinced that the proposed development would help the school attain financial self-sufficiency while creating jobs in Santa Fe.
“Contrary to ongoing rumor and innuendo, the Board emphasized that the project would not include a casino, or alcohol and tobacco sales,” it said. Congress has specifically banned “gaming” on the campus.
“The reason they wanted to add that and make that clear is because … they don’t want the emphasis to be taken away from the students and it doesn’t seem prudent to have economic development based on a campus for the students and [have] alcohol and tobacco sales,” Calabaza said in a telephone interview. “We would like to steer the kids away from that sort of thing, and selling the products on campus isn’t the right message.”
The Santa Fe Indian School opened in 1890. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs ran it for most of the 20th century. But in 2000, Congress turned over the 115-acre campus to the All Indian Pueblo Council, representing New Mexico’s 19 pueblos. AIPC maintains that because Congress conveyed the campus as trust land, it has sovereignty over the property and does not have to abide by city, county or state laws there.
Calabaza said school officials want to be good community partners, as the Indian Pueblos Federal Development Corp. has been in the redevelopment of the old Albuquerque Indian School into federal offices and a new Holiday Inn. At least two plans for hotels and retail shops at the Santa Fe Indian School have been forwarded to The New Mexican. But the news release quotes SFIS superintendent Everett Chavez speculating that the development might include doctors’ offices or clothing stores.
“Right now, we really can’t say what would become of this because we don’t have the authority from the feds to open up to this economic development,” Calabaza said. “We need to get the language in the [law] changed that would allow us to move to the next step, which is getting the project shovel-ready and then starting the development.”
Calabaza said school officials want to work with city officials over access to the development from Cerrillos Road and other issues.
“All indications right now are from the current mayor that he’s on board,” Calabaza said. “I know the superintendent and some of the other upper management staff there at the school, they have all met with the mayor and have discussed their idea, and the mayor’s on board, seeing this as an economic boom, a win-win for both the school and the city.”
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.