Tesuque wants to be 'good neighbors' to Santa Fe Opera

Pueblo says it intends to address SFO's concerns over light, noise pollution, construction of adjacent casino-hotel complex

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Tesuque Pueblo's planned casino adjacent to The Santa Fe Opera will face to the north and east, toward U.S. 84/285 and away from the theater, rehearsal halls and other buildings on the opera campus, a pueblo official said Thursday.

John Kubiak, chairman of the Pueblo of Tesuque Development Corp., said the casino will be located as far away as possible from the opera property on vacant tribal land previously used for a flea market.

Surface parking is planned between the casino and the opera campus, although Kubiak said he was uncertain whether parking would extend to the line dividing the properties.

Tesuque Pueblo has directed the architectural firm designing the casino to address the opera's concerns that noise and light pollution from the development could diminish the experience of those who attend the evening performances in the open-air theater, the official said.

"We are going to do everything we can reasonably do to accommodate their concerns," Kubiak said. "We fully intend to be responsible and good neighbors with the opera."

Kubiak's comments were the most detailed yet from Tesuque Pueblo on its development plans. The pueblo, in a short news release, announced Wednesday it planned to build the casino.

The site of the planned casino is easily accessible from an exit off U.S. 84/285. The property is several hundred feet away from the opera theater and visible from only some balcony seats and patios on the theater's east side.

But the opera campus extends down a hill from the theater and toward the casino development site, with two rehearsal halls just across a narrow, two-lane drive from the pueblo property. That has caused concerns that backstage areas of the opera campus could also be affected by construction and operation of the casino.

Earl Potter, an opera donor who has worked as a land-use attorney for Santa Fe County, said it would be in the best interest of both the opera and Tesuque Pueblo to have a buffer zone between the developments.

"Hopefully, the casino won't be right up against the property line," Potter said. "There is plenty of property there."

Charles MacKay, the opera's general director, has said the opera supports the pueblo's economic development efforts and that he believes the casino can be built while protecting the acoustics of the theater and its dramatic views stretching to near the Colorado border on a clear day.

Kubiak said a plan for a hotel on the casino property is only preliminary. He said it would have about 100 rooms but said he was unsure of the number of floors.

"It's just a concept at this point," he said.

The casino will be about 70,000 square feet, Kubiak said. Plans call for 750 slot machines, as well as table games. The casino will replace Camel Rock Casino, which is about 50,000 square feet and advertises more than 500 slots.

The building housing Camel Rock Casino, located about five miles north of the planned new casino, will be reused, Kubiak said.

He declined to discuss the cost of the development or its financing, saying that information was proprietary.

Tesuque Pueblo's net win from its slot machines at Camel Rock Casino has averaged just over $20 million a year over the past five years. From net win and other income, the pueblo must pay operating expenses.

With New Mexico's economy still struggling a decade after the start of the Great Recession, state economists have projected only modest growth in Indian gaming in New Mexico over the next five years. If true, Tesuque Pueblo's new casino will have to cut into the business of other tribal casinos to generate significantly more revenue than Camel Rock.

Kubiak declined to discuss the pueblo's business strategy.

"We understand we have competition for those entertainment dollars," he said. "We obviously felt we can justify this undertaking economically."

The Santa Fe Opera, a nonprofit organization with an annual budget of more than $20 million, also is a major economic engine. Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said the opera generates more than $200 million a year in economic activity and employs 700.

Gonzales said he has faith that the opera and Tesuque Pueblo will consult with each other on the casino development.

"The Santa Fe Opera is known for its outdoor experience," Gonzales said. "Tesuque Pueblo wants to do the right thing."

Contact Thom Cole at 505-986-3022 or tcole@sfnewmexican.c­om.

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