New rehearsal hall for opera on horizon

By Anne Constable: The Santa Fe New Mexican

The Santa Fe Opera is seeking legislative approval for an agreement with the state to lease and eventually purchase a yet-to-be-built open-air rehearsal hall and the land it sits on.

Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, introduced this week House Joint Resolution 8, which would give the unique deal the Legislature’s stamp of approval.

Under state law, the Legislature has control over large purchase agreements and leases.

If lawmakers sign off on the measure, construction of the $1,435,000 building could begin in September.

The opera has long wanted a new hall to provide more space during the summer when all five main-stage productions are in rehearsal.

Several years ago, the opera and the Department of Cultural Affairs worked out the mechanism by which taxpayer money could be used to pay for the hall without violating New Mexico’s anti-donation clause, which prohibits the state from giving money to private entities.

The opera deeded the land — less than a quarter acre on the opera grounds — to the state, which agreed to build the rehearsal hall using a design developed by the opera. Over the last two sessions the Legislature gave DCA $1,435,000 in capital outlay funds to cover construction costs.

Under the agreement, DCA will lease the building to the opera for three months of the year — June, July and August — at a fair market value of $15,000, which the opera will pay in cash. For the rest of the year, the state will be able to use the building as a performing arts rehearsal and performance space.

While the building is not suitable for use in winter, Jerry Nelson, the opera’s assistant director of development, said there are at least three or four months when it could be a viable venue. “Renting it out for corporate clients for dinner is not really part of this idea,” he said.

The opera has said it wants to buy both the land and the building “relatively soon.” The joint resolution asks the Legislature to approve the purchase at fair market value.

The opera intends to pay for the property through services to the community. “We’re offering the state at least $300,000 in services every year until we’ve purchased it back,” Nelson said.

The services include things like the opera-in-the-schools program, state apprentice tours, concerts, etc. From a varying menu, “DCA will choose every year which programs they wish us to use as services.”

Many of these programs are those the opera has previously been offering to the community at great cost to itself, Nelson said.

That “the opera is going to promise to do them under the current economic climate, that’s a big promise,” Nelson said. “These are expensive.”

Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or aconstable@sfnewmexican.com.