What the BUILD Act could build: The Santa Fe Railyard, New Mexico

Railyard Park in Santa Fe, a former brownfield site. Image by Sacker Foto via Flickr.

“In New Mexico, we have a great history of turning brownfields around, like the Santa Fe Railyard.”

– Senator Tom Udall, NM

The Santa Fe Railyard in Santa Fe, NM has played an important role in the city’s history. With the help of the EPA’s brownfield program, the Railyard will be part of life in Santa Fe for years to come.

Built in 1880, the railroad connected New Mexico’s rugged desertscapes to the country’s westward expansion. The Railyard, a 50-acre depot located in the southwest corner of today’s downtown, became a hub of activity and a cultural center. But as interstate highway and air travel became popular, the once-proud Railyard began to fall into obsolescence and disrepair. By 1987, the Railyard was a blighted site in need of redevelopment, and contaminated from years of industrial use.

The City of Santa Fe purchased the property in the late 1980’s hoping to revitalize the historic depot into a cultural district with ample green space for public recreation. An Assessment Grant from the EPA’s Brownfields Program in 1998 made it possible for the city to begin redevelopment, including determining the site’s contamination levels and cleanup alternatives, organizing neighborhood partnerships and conducting community outreach.

Today, the Railyard site has been transformed into an arts and culture center. The redevelopment created the 10-acre Railyard Park as well as live-in artist studios, galleries, museums, a farmers’ market, retail shops, office space and a public promenade. Railyard Park’s native, desert plants use harvested rainwater to keep the space thriving in Santa Fe’s dry climate. A brewery, restaurants, art galleries, fitness studios and, of course, a commuter rail station have crafted the Railyard into a thriving, mixed-use space. The Railyard is fostering community through a full calendar of public events. Free concerts, a farmers market, and a monthly evening arts walk promote local talent and businesses while establishing the Railyard as a public destination.

Since the EPA’s initial investment of $200,000, more than $125 million has been leveraged for the Railyard from public and private sources.

The Santa Fe Railyard is exemplary of the potential benefits of Brownfields redevelopment. Since the EPA’s initial investment of $200,000, more than $125 million has been leveraged for the Railyard from public and private sources.

A new bill in Congress could help more communities achieve successes like the Railyards project. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act, introduced by Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ), Inhofe (R-OK), Udall (D-NM) and Crapo (R-ID) last week, will make more projects like this possible. The BUILD Act would help communities to redevelop blighted, contaminated and abandoned sites that inhibit economic development and pose risks to public health. Senator Udall spoke of the BUILD Act’s potential to revitalize brownfields sites:

The BUILD Act will further expand our ability to turn these cherished areas into economically productive destinations and neighborhoods that will attract commerce and reduce unnecessary urban sprawl.

The Santa Fe Railyard, in Senator Udall’s home state of New Mexico, shows how federal support can help breathe new life into cherished yet blighted sites. Smart Growth America would like to thank Senator Udall for sponsoring the BUILD Act. In doing so, the Senator is helping to make lasting, positive change in communities in New Mexico and across the country. The Railyard has spurred economic growth in Santa Fe while creating a cultural destination, crafted from the city’s heritage, for residents to enjoy year round. The project is a stellar template for the potential of brownfields redevelopment across New Mexico and the country.