After about three-and-a-half years of planning, bidding and public presentations, the city of Española and nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa have withdrawn from a $1.4 million federal grant that was meant to fund the Food Hub project.
The Española City Council voted April 23 to approve a resolution that terminates the $1.4 million grant from the federal Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.
City Attorney A.J. Salazar said the resolution terminates the grant “for convenience,” which leaves the door open for the city government to reapply for the funding.
“For convenience would mean it would be no fault to either party,” he said. “Nothing would prohibit either the city or CPLC from obtaining or reapplying for this grant money, or other other monies, in the future.”
Since at least September 2013, local officials have planned to develop the former Hunter Ford dealership into a place for retail stores, a farmers market and a venue for live events, called Hunter Station.
Roger Gonzalez, president of the New Mexico chapter of the Phoenix-based nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), Inc. was previously expecting to break ground on the project in 2017.
Over the years, the day-to-day responsibility for the project has been passed between various people, both at Chicanos Por La Causa and the city government.
It started under the Alice Lucero administration. Gonzalez took over Chicanos Por La Causa’s part of the partnership in February 2017 after his predecessor, Todd Lopez, resigned to work for a different nonprofit in Santa Fe.
At the time, Lopez declined to comment on his exit. Former city attorney Frank Coppler said at the time that Chicanos Por La Causa had missed at least two deadlines given to them by the city government.
“We had a change of administrations, where the folks involved at the city level who understood the effort, that administration moved on,” Rio Arriba County Economic Development Director Christopher Madrid said. “This administration, came in not familiar with all the background.”
Madrid said Tuesday he believes the federal government would still be open to the possibility of helping to fund the original “Food Hub” project, instead of the more expansive project that was eventually planned. The County government was not included as a party to the grant, however, it has been involved in planning the project.
“Perhaps we can go back and take a good look at where we’re at, and assess,” Madrid said. “At the end of the day, it’s the city’s property, and we respect that, and we really appreciate them listening to what all transpired, and perhaps what can be salvaged, if anything.”
The bids submitted by contractors to actually build the project came in way above the estimate created by the project’s architect.
On April 17, 2017, CPLC along with city and County officials gave Albuquerque-based FBT Architects the highest score for their qualifications, and awarded them a $136,823 contract to design the project.
Then on Jan. 25, 2018, Gonzalez and two others reviewed construction bids. They expected the project to cost about $3.6 million.
The cheapest bid, Gonzales said, was $8 million.
That price tag was beyond the $1.4 million grant along with $430,000 in state Capital Outlay funding earmarked for the project.
“After CPLCNM proceeded to public procurement for construction services, both CPLCNM and the City have determined that this project is no longer financially viable nor economically sustainable,” the city council resolution states.
Another challenge in getting the project going was a delay in completing environmental assessment of the property, Madrid said.
“Due to concerns with timely submission of the Phase II Report, we contracted with Souder, Miller and Associates and submitted to EPA for acknowledgement and concurrence on May 27, 2016,” Gonzalez and Española Mayor Javier Sanchez wrote April 23 to Administration Regional Director Jorge Ayala. “EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) refused to accept the independent firm’s assessment and conducted their own. We received their report on September 27, 2016.”
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