img_Mixed-use-boom-in-Albuquerque

Mixed-use boom in Albuquerque

One Central is a mixed-use, six-story steel and concrete structure featuring 68 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments Downtown. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mixed-use properties are becoming the go-to opportunity for many developers and investors in and around Downtown Albuquerque.

Many Albuquerque developers either have mixed-use projects that are opening soon, rising on construction sites or teeing up. They are so prevalent these days that NAIOP New Mexico, the commercial real estate development association, recently hosted a panel discussion featuring some of the more active players.

Several of the NAIOP speakers laid out a rosy vision of building mixed-use properties with hundreds of new rental apartments Downtown – living spaces offering vibrant designs and unique amenities, and primarily tailored to millennials and baby boomers. These future renters, they asserted with the highest of hopes, are eager to ditch their cars to “live, work and play” in walkable, transit-accessible neighborhoods, with merchants on the ground floor eager to sell them coffee, food and entertainment.

One mixed-use project, which will soon take shape along Central across from Presbyterian Hospital, is clearly on steroids when one considers its size, expense and future economic impact.

An aerial view of The Highlands shows some of the key development phases that are planned during a multi-year build-out. (Courtesy of Titan Development)

“Mixed-use projects are an expression of the (development) industry adapting to changes in the culture – especially the ways some of us now work, live and buy,” said Steve Maestas, a prominent leader in the town’s commercial real estate sector. His company, Maestas Development Group, is teaming on a privately funded $100 million project called The Highlands with Titan Development and Alliance Residential.

The first two of six planned phases will be The Broadstone Highlands, a 92-unit apartment building, and a Marriott Springhill Suites Hotel. Also the drawing board is a second Broadstone apartment community, with 228 units. In the conceptual stages are a food hall called Highlands Central Market, other retail tenants and a skybridge linking The Highlands development to Presbyterian.

Presbyterian, which sees 5,000 hospital employees, visitors and vendors each day, will be a big draw for the future apartment dwellers, retailers and food purveyors at the revitalized 12-acre site. “Our charge from Presbyterian (which is also a partner in the enterprise) is to create uses that will eliminate car trips to the (already congested) campus,” said Kurt Browning, Titan’s chief development officer.

“The whole idea is to create a future neighborhood on the order of Nob Hill and EDo,” east of Downtown, Browning said.

The partnership expects to break ground on the project this fall, and buildout is estimated to be completed in the next five years. Browning said 1,150 construction jobs and 425 permanent jobs will be created for the five-block development.

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“The whole corridor (along Central) is going to look so much different five to 10 years out,” Maestas said.

Joining forces with Titan and Alliance helps spread the financial risk, said Maestas, whose company separately owns and operates Las Estancias, a massive commercial development in the South Valley. He said food and beverage purveyors, much like his Las Estancias development, will be a strong focus at The Highlands.

“Food and beverages are that experiential component that a lot of retail operators are missing,” Maestas said. “Pre-recession, 8 percent of the retail footprint (in the U.S.) was food-oriented. It’s now 16 to 17 percent and could be as high 25 percent by the end of the decade.”

Help from public entities

Many of the recent and future mixed-use projects are centered on or near the Central and Lomas corridors, and several would probably not have gotten off the ground without some help from city, county and other public entities.

A public-private partnership jump-started the $19.3 million mixed-use Imperial Building at Second and Silver SW, which in 2015 brought Downtown a long-sought-after new grocery store, new eateries and apartments. Geltmore LLC and YES Housing developed Imperial with a boost from the city, which contributed $4.4 million (including the land) and low-income housing tax credits. The project also received county and federal incentives.

A view of the Albuquerque skyline from the One Central construction site. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

It was a similar story for One Central, which is coming to life at First and Central. The city kicked in $17 million – most of it coming from lodgers’ taxes – plus land valued at $1.4 million, accounting for just under $19 million of the $35 million mixed-use project. Bernalillo County also approved an industrial revenue bond package that includes property and gross receipts tax breaks.

The project, which broke ground in January 2017, was created in response to the city’s request for proposals for a Downtown “entertainment district” to include restaurant and retail or entertainment businesses.

So far, the six-story steel and concrete structure features 68 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, which are leasing for August move-ins, and a 420-space parking garage.

Mosher has long indicated the project would likely involve a bowling alley but has yet to find an operator. Presumably it will have enough sound proofing to not disturb the renters on the top three floors. Meanwhile, he’s in discussions with other potential commercial tenants including a coffee bar and bakery, a brewery and a deli.

Multiple projects

Some of the other notable projects around town include:

• El Vado Place, an $18 million project that includes nearly $3 million from the city of Albuquerque, is nearly completed after transforming a long-closed Route 66 motor lodge into a boutique motel, event center, amphitheater, the town’s second Ponderosa Brewing taproom and food pods. The project also includes the 42-unit El Vado Place apartments, with both market rate and Section 8-eligible rentals.

Redevelopment of the former DeAnza Motor Lodge is underway. The mixed-use project will blend a hotel with apartments, restaurants, retailers and office space. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

• The $8 million DeAnza Motor Lodge which will get new life in about a year as a mixed-use project. The city previously owned the land and the derelict structures. A development group called Anthea at Nob Hill LLC, which includes Albuquerque-based companies TLC Plumbing and Utility and HB Construction, bought DeAnza in late 2017 for an undisclosed price from the Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency. The development along Central will include a boutique hotel, an extended stay hotel, upscale apartments, full-service restaurants, retail and office spaces.

• The $4.5 million Zocalo Lofts mixed-used project, which is being built in the 500 block of Fourth Street in the Barelas neighborhood. The 14,000-square-foot residential component is composed of 21 market-rate studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Another 10,000 square feet will be devoted to retail space.

• Elevate @ 3rd and Lomas is envisioned as an infill mixed-use project with ground-floor retail space, upper-floor office space and 170 apartments, according to Scott Throckmorton of Argus Investment Realty. Cost estimates and other details are pending from Argus, which, with several equity partners, is also behind the Bank of the West Center redevelopment nearby.

With sights set on an ambitious makeover of what is currently used as a surface parking lot, Elevate @ 3rd & Lomas will include ground-floor retail, new office space on the second floor and over 170 residential units on the third through seventh floors. (Courtesy of Argus Investment Realty)

• Glorietta Station is a planned redevelopment of an 8-acre site, including a five-story building, at Lomas and Broadway. Proposed by the Garcia family, which owns several auto dealerships, the mixed-use development would include a restaurant, marketplace, gallery and workspace, along with a distillery. No cost estimates have been disclosed.

• Silver Avenue Flats, a $24 million, five-story project with 132 high-end apartments and commercial/retail space. The development timeline suggests a summer 2019 completion date. Development principals are CBRE Albuquerque executives Tom Jenkins and Erik Olson. They’re seeking city assistance to defray development costs and fees and abatement of gross receipts taxes for construction costs.

The El Vado project, previously a derelict Route 66-era motel, imagines a mixed-use project that draws locals and tourists to its eating, drinking and lodging venues. The public-private collaboration also offers lodging and shores up the area’s local rental needs. Madeline Lopez and her husband Abel Lopez enjoy a couple of tall cool ones on a recent hot summer evening.

With all these ambitious-sounding developments hitting the market over the course of several years, one might wonder if there are enough future rental and commercial tenants – and a strong enough economy – to sustain them all. Asked if he’s worried about any of them canceling each other out, developer Jerry Mosher was not the least concerned.

“I think we’re are going to be like McDonald’s and Wendy’s,” he said. “I think we’ll feed off each other.”

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300+ Four Corners homes on pre-evacuation due to mudslide potential

Hundreds of homes in the Four Corners region of the state are on pre-evacuation notice as the weekend begins due to the potential for mudslides in areas where the 416 Fire destroyed vegetation.

More than 300 homes are on notice on county roads 203 and 205. A community meeting will be held Saturday evening at Miller Middle School in Durango to discuss the blaze and threats of flooding.

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Commercial drones taking off

Engineers Gideon Graffe, left, and Sam Berman attach wings to the Silent Falcon at the company’s 5,000-square-foot facility in Southeast Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Starting this summer, solar-powered drones from New Mexico will soar above raging wildland blazes to offer a critical eye in the sky to firefighters battling flames below.

Silent Falcon flight operations director Trevor Briggs shows how the drone’s infrared camera attaches to the aircraft’s belly. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The drones, made by Albuquerque-based Silent Falcon UAS Technologies, are part of a fleet of unmanned aerial systems being deployed for the first time this year under a new U.S. Department of Interior contract for air support companies to dispatch commercial drones as needed to wildfires in all 50 U.S. states. One of those companies, Montana-based Bridger Aerospace, subcontracted Silent Falcon to deploy its solar-powered drones whenever the feds call for assistance.

Until now, government agencies permitted only small, helicopter-like drones, or hovercraft, to fly near fires. The Silent Falcon, however, is a winged plane built to fly long distances for hours on end, providing detailed, real-time imaging of everything in a broad swath of area below. It’s equipped with infrared cameras and other sensors that allow it to operate in adverse conditions, enabling it to see through smoke from wildfires and identify hot spots.

Company CEO John Brown with the fully-assembled Silent Falcon. Brown launched Silent Falcon UAS Technologies in 2010 in Albuquerque. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Federal authorization to use such unmanned systems marks a new milestone in the emerging commercial drone industry, said Silent Falcon CEO John Brown. Although the government still maintains tight restrictions on operations in civilian airspace, it’s slowly opening the skies to more exploratory uses while the Federal Aviation Administration works on the rules and regulations needed to safely allow drones to fly unencumbered over urban and rural areas.

That, in turn, is encouraging industry to test a huge range of commercial uses, from aerial inspection of remote infrastructure and industrial operations to mapping and surveying of real estate and construction sites.

“We’ve seen a sea change in the market, starting last year and picking up even more this year,” Brown said. “Companies and government agencies are seeing broad commercial applications for unmanned aerial systems, and it’s creating huge demand for services.”

George Bye of Bye Aerospace Inc. in Colorado, which helped launch Silent Falcon in 2010, said a “cultural change” in attitude is driving commercial markets forward.

“A few years ago, drones were a pioneering concept that elicited interest with skepticism, but that’s entirely gone away,” Bye said. “The use of robotic planes is now fully accepted. It’s phenomenal how fast it’s changed.”

A critical turning point came in August 2016, when the FAA approved the first-ever rules and regulations for limited use of civilian drones in domestic skies. Under the FAA’s “Part 107” restrictions, licensed operators can now fly small aircraft of under 55 pounds up to 400 feet in the air, although only during daytime. Ground controllers must keep all craft within their line of sight and avoid flying over people.

Payload engineer Daniel Bowen attaches a propeller to the Silent Falcon, which the company is preparing to ship to Nevada for wildfire-related operations.

That cracked the door open for the first time for hobbyists, commercial operators and government agencies to begin flying drones, generating a flood of activity. To date, about 120,000 “pilots” have received drone operating licenses under Part 107. And over 1 million unmanned systems are now registered with the FAA – more than all manned aircraft registered nationwide.

“Overnight it created a very sizable service industry for vertical flights to inspect small areas and infrastructure with multi-rotor drones,” Brown said. “Unmanned systems are now an ubiquitous part of all surveying and mapping operations of everything from power lines and pipelines to oil and gas operations, construction sites and real estate.”

The Teal Group, a Virginia-based aerospace and defense analysis firm, estimates the civilian and military drone markets reached $3 billion in the U.S. last year and will grow to $8.7 billion by 2026. Worldwide, market value hit $7 billion and will grow to $22 billion by 2026, said Teal Group Director of Corporate Analysis Philip Finnegan.

“The market is just beginning,” Finnegan said. “It’s still a nascent industry.”

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Washington, D.C. estimates more than 100,000 domestic UAS-related jobs will emerge in the next few years.

“We sifted through information provided in all Part 107 operator applications, and found four dozen types of UAS businesses,” said AUVSI spokesman Tom McMahon. “Apart from more than 100,000 pilots licensed, there’s all the support personnel and commercial services needed for operations.”

The Silent Falcon’s flight and location appear on a ground control center screen.

In New Mexico, at least a dozen companies have emerged from participants in DroneU, an Albuquerque-based school that offers in-person and online courses about drones while preparing pilots for Part 107 license exams. Commercial activities include aerial photography, real estate videography, and land reclamation and mining-remediation surveys, said DroneU founder and Chief Technology Officer Paul Aitken.

“We train about 1,100 pilots a month on average nationwide,” Aitken said. “About 75 percent of them are people focused on business who want to turn their passion into a profit.”

Many companies and government agencies are also training their own personnel to incorporate drones into operations.

“All the federal agencies, like Fish and Wildlife and the Army Corps of Engineers, are actively researching how they can use drones to get their jobs done,” said University of New Mexico geography and environmental studies professor Chris Lippitt.

Lippitt is a co-founder of Albuquerque-based IBEX Aegis, which developed a software platform to turn drone imagery into high-tech reports that magnify and illuminate intricate details. The company, which launched last year, employs five now and expects to grow to 10 or 12 by next year, said co-founder and CEO Jesse Sprague.

“Our UAS partners collect imagery that we upload to our software,” Sprague said. “They need that to leverage the data provided. We mine the data for imagery and maps.”

Another Albuquerque company, Robotic Skies, has established an international network of repair and service centers where drones fly in like manned aircraft, said President and CEO Brad Hayden. The company received a first round of venture seed funding last year from the Kickstart Seed Fund in Utah and Sun Mountain Capital in Santa Fe.

“We have a global network of 150 independently-owned and operated service stations in 35 countries,” Hayden said.

Operators use this ground control center to fly the Silent Falcon and control all its imaging, sensing and air maneuvers. The flight plan and photos taken by the drone in flight appear on the screens.

For Silent Falcon, wildfire work is just the tip of the iceberg. Later this summer, it will begin aerial inspections of some 2,600 wells for an oil company.

“We’re excited about where things are going,” Brown said. “Industry use of drones is only just beginning, and we’re setting ourselves up to be at the forefront as it emerges.”

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Average worker can’t afford 2-bedroom apartment anywhere in US, report says

(KRON) – Retail salespeople, maintenance workers, restaurant employees — millions of Americans are struggling to get by in low-paying jobs.

Affordable housing is a big challenge.

Minimum wage earners can no longer afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.

The report comes from the National Coalition For Low Income Housing, which says only a handful of states offer affordable housing for people making less than $15 an hour.

The problem? Even the lowest amount is higher than the local minimum wage. The 2018 national Housing Wage is $22.10 for a modest two-bedroom rental home and $17.90 for a modest one-bedroom rental house, according to the report.

It also states that one-bedroom is affordable for minimum-wage workers in only 22 counties in five states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. All of those states have set their minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25.

For example, in Arkansas, you only need to earn a little over $13 for a typical 2-bedroom apartment.

However, that’s still almost double the Arkansas minimum wage of $8.50.

In New Mexico, the minimum wage is $7.70

You can afford a typical 2-bedroom apartment if you make just under $15.89 an hour.

Anyone making that amount would have to work triple shifts of 85 hours a week for a 2-bedroom apartment.

Even for a single bedroom, you’d need to work 69 hours.

In New Mexico, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $827. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities, a household must earn at least $2,755 monthly or $33,062 annually.

A one-bedroom apartment is $671.

There is also a total of 245,732 renter households in New Mexico, according to the report.

Below are some of the most expensive areas in New Mexico:

Los Alamos County: $19.67 Santa Fe: $19.35 Lincoln County: $16.90 Albuquerque: $16.79 Eddy County: 15.75

Metropolitan Areas:

Albuquerque: $16.79 Farmington: $14.81 Las Cruces: $14.48 Santa Fe: $19.35

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New Mexico workers two-bedroom apartment costs – Albuquerque Business First

Albuquerque has a reputation of being a city with a low cost of living, but its low wages also help put housing out of reach for many renters.

A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition released last week shows workers in the Duke City on average have to work more than one job to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

Based on a "fair market rent" of $873 for a two-bedroom apartment, the average worker has to have 1.3 jobs, based on the mean hourly renter wage of $12.84 in the Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area. For renters earning minimum wage, they would have to work 2.2 jobs to pay rent. The federal government annually determines fair market rents, which serve as estimates of what apartments in a particular area would cost to rent.

The hourly wage to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Albuquerque is $16.79, according to the study.

View the accompanying slideshow to see what workers have to earn in other parts of the state, including Santa Fe, to afford a two-bedroom apartment.

Overall, New Mexico ranked No. 36 on the report, with workers in the state needing to earn on average $15.89. Nearly a third of people in the state are renters, the report said. Renters working minimum wage must work 85 hours per week to make rent, according to the study.

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City bans front-yard parking for new homes, imposes limits in other cases

FRONT-YARD PARKING RULES SET IN CONCRETE: Richard emails that “since 2016 you have given us updates on proposed rules to stop front-yard parking in unimproved areas, but nothing recently. Have you given up? How about another update? And can you tell us who doesn’t want to stop this eyesore in Albuquerque?”

Front-yard parkers, for one.

Everyone else seems to have been trying to get the bureaucracy that is city government on the same page when it comes to stopping people from parking on their landscaping, or what would have been landscaping if people hadn’t parked on it.

And now, ta-da, they have.

Shanna Schultz, a planning policy analyst with the Albuquerque City Council, says the new “Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO) made several improvements to the language regarding front-yard parking that will make it more enforceable from the city’s perspective.”

NEW CONSTRUCTION: With development built after May 17, it says “parking in residential zone districts or for low-density residential development is prohibited on any portion of the front-yard setback other than on a driveway or drive aisle meeting the standards of this IDO” and sets out limits to what can be made into a driveway – which must be paved or done with crusher fine and can range from 400 square feet to 85 percent of the front yard.

CONSTRUCTION 2007 TO MAY 2018: As for homes built between 2007 and the IDO, “improved parking areas that met the rules in place at the time they were built can continue to be used for parking. Parking is limited to those improved areas.”

CONSTRUCTION BEFORE 2007: For homes built before 2007, “if an improved parking area… was developed, that is the only area that can be used for parking in the front yard. The size is not limited to the size limits in the IDO and can be continued to be used for parking.

“If no improved parking area was developed, the amount of the front yard that can be used for parking is limited to the sizes in the IDO, but that parking area is not required to be improved.”

There is also a variance procedure, which entails a public hearing and a meeting with the applicable homeowner’s association.

PROBLEMS AT U.S. 66 AND OLD MOUNTAIN: Vonsand emails “a request for your assistance with problems that exist at the intersection of old U.S. 66 at the intersection of Mountain Valley Road to the north and Highway 217 to the south. Several automobile accidents and numerous near-misses have and do occur at this intersection daily. Does a fatality have to occur before DOT will fix the problems?”

Vonsand says “drivers making the left turn onto Mt. Valley turn too short, and the vehicles southbound on Mt. Valley have to pull up in order to clear their view over a guardrail at that intersection. Drivers making a right turn from Mt. Valley onto westbound old U.S. 66 block the view of the driver on Mt. Valley attempting to make a left turn onto Old U.S. 66. In addition the traffic northbound on Highway 217 attempting to make a left turn onto U.S. 66 has difficulty getting across because of the heavy traffic in every direction.”

Kimberly Gallegos, from the New Mexico Department of Transportation, says “the DOT had a construction project that included geometric improvements that built left-turn lanes on N.M. 333 (Historic Route 66). It does not meet warrants for a signal. We will schedule a couple of field observations in the a.m. and p.m. peak hours.”

Editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays. Reach her at 823-3858; dwestphal@abqjournal.com; or P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103.

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How Dreamstyle Remodeling plans to follow up its big year in 2018

Opportunity, philanthropy and growth.

That’s what Larry Chavez, president and CEO of Dreamstyle Remodeling, says he sees when he looks at 2018. Dreamstyle is a finalist for our new Top 100 New Mexico Private Companies Company of the Year award. The winner will be revealed at our awards event June 14.

His home remodeling company’s goals include expanding into new territories and products in Dreamstyle’s home state of New Mexico and beyond. That follows the big splash Dreamstyle made in 2017 by announcing a $10 million, 10-year naming rights commitment for the football and basketball stadiums at the University of New Mexico.

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Dreamstyle Remodeling owner Larry Chavez gifted $10 million to the University of New Mexico for the naming rights to the school’s football and basketball facilities.

"It’s been terrific," Chavez said of how the deal impacted awareness of his company.

He said the naming rights deal inspired pride in his employees and their families, plus visibility and credibility, both locally and within the industry nationally.

"The majority of our motivation was to support the university," he said, adding that "it’s nice to get the benefit" of additional awareness too.

Dreamstyle plans to hire another 100 people by the end of the year, Chavez said. It’s also expanding farther in Southern California and exploring expansion in West Texas.

In terms of expansion, Dreamstyle aims to "bring back profits from other markets to invest in New Mexico," Chavez said.

Locally, it will convert some space in its facility at 1460 Renaissance Blvd. NE into a call center to accommodate the company’s growth.

Dreamstyle’s still on track to hit $250 million in revenue and add 500 employees by 2020, a goal Chavez shared with Business First last year.

Acquisitions will likely contribute about 25 to 30 percent of that growth, Chavez said. The company’s goal with acquisitions: "pick up something small in a good market and expand it."

The company’s also growing its philanthropy, adding support for Casa Esperanza to its UNM-related philanthropic commitments. Casa Esperanza provides housing for families receiving cancer treatment in Albuquerque.

Dreamstyle has beefed up its executive team, and Chavez said he feels good about succession prospects in key positions, including at the top.

Last year, Larry Chavez Jr. told Business First he’d like to take over the company with his brother. Chavez Jr. will be a succession candidate, Chavez Sr. said. He’s confident the company will have multiple strong candidates to succeed him when the time comes — which he says is likely still five to seven years down the line.

John Garcia, Home Builders Association of Central New Mexico executive vice president, isn’t surprised by the success Chavez Sr. has led Dreamstyle to.

“He looks for opportunities and exploits them as much as possible, as a good businessman has to do,” Garcia told us last year.

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The Verdes Foundation medical cannabis education advocacy – Albuquerque Business First

See Correction/Clarification at end of article

In May, Albuquerque Business First revealed the companies that made our new Top 100 New Mexico Private Companies Awards.

Business First is highlighting a handful of companies that are new to the list this year.

Albuquerque-based medical cannabis dispensary The Verdes Foundation has a laundry list of efforts that have nothing to do with the plant. They’ve also made the cut for our Top 100 Private Companies List for the first time. Founders Rachael and Eric Speegle outlined their visions for the future.

"We’re here for New Mexico, we support New Mexico," Rachael Speegle said.

One of their most aggressive efforts has been giving back to the community.

The dispensary does "Community Fridays" where 10 percent of the day’s revenues are given to various grant recipients. Last year, Verdes gave over $153,000, according to the Speegles.

"Doing the right thing is good for business," Eric Speegle said.

The duo emphasized that they want their customers to feel like they are contributing to the community in a positive way by shopping at their dispensaries. They are also pursuing advocacy initiatives.

Eric and Rachael Speegle recently founded the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and are planning to host the third annual New Mexico Medical Cannabis Conference next spring. They said their key goals are to protect the medical cannabis program and be a voice for legalization efforts.

They are also looking to expand their production and retail efforts. They relocated to San Antonio Drive in October of 2017 and opened a Rio Rancho location in 2016, according to previous Business First reporting.

The Verdes Foundation brought in about $6.5 million in revenues in 2017 and expect to rake in around $7 million this year, according to Eric Speegle.

They also recently partnered with New Mexico medical cannabis company Southwest Organic Producers and will be managing 450 of their plants, as well as selling some of what they produce. Consistency is key, according to Rachael Speegle.

"Safe access means continual access," she said.

The company also is teaching its customers and community about cannabis. It regularly hosts an event called Lunch and Learn where physicians are invited to learn about the benefits of the plant. They have other arrangements as well.

"We are really special in creating the first cannabis nursing program," Rachael Speegle said.

Christiana Davis, a customer service representative, said they see a wide array of patients, both in age and prescribed ailment. Some of them have little or no knowledge about cannabis.

"We really take our time with those patients," Davis said.

The program will potentially be a joint effort between The Verdes Foundation and Central New Mexico Community College, but was originally spearheaded by Verdes.

To make sure those customers are adequately informed, The Verdes Foundation takes measures to ensure each employee knows a lot about their products.

General Manager Stephanie Corral said training takes anywhere between three weeks and two months.

The Top 100 Private Companies encompasses the top-performing independent companies, including wholly owned subsidiaries and nonprofits, that are based in New Mexico. Companies submitted their information by survey to be considered for The List of New Mexico Private Companies. The List is ranked by 2017 New Mexico revenue.

This new event will highlight the work of New Mexico’s private sector and will include lots of fun surprises and recognition, including the new Company of the Year Award.

Join us June 14 at the Albuquerque Convention Center as we celebrate the many companies thriving in New Mexico’s private sector.

The Top 100 New Mexico Private Companies Awards is sponsored by Bank of America and Meals on Wheels.

Medical Marijuana Companies

Ranked by Gross receipts

Rank Company name Gross receipts 1 New Mexico Top Organics – Ultra Health $4.88 million 2 The Verdes Foundation $4.60 million 3 R. Greenleaf Organics Inc. $4.18 million View This List
Correction/Clarification

This article has been updated to clarify the partnership arrangement of The Verdes Foudation’s planned cannabis nursing program.

The Verdes Foundation has made several recent moves, many of which have nothing to do with their retail operations.

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Nursing homes in New Mexico rank at the bottom

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

At Princeton Place in Albuquerque, an unsupervised resident wandered outside the facility and was struck and killed by a vehicle, according to a 2016 federal report.

At Casa Real in Santa Fe, inspectors said in a 2016 report that eight residents were not given insulin on the schedule ordered by their doctor.

No compatible source was found for this media.

Still another report states that at Sierra Health Care Center in Truth or Consequences, a resident told inspectors in 2017 he was left unattended for hours until his colostomy bag began to leak.

“I had to hold (feces) in my hand,” said the individual, according to the report. “I finally started yelling. … I would like to get the care I feel I deserve.”

Such issues are among more than 2,217 infractions reported in New Mexico-based nursing homes in recent years, as shown by reports filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Princeton Place, Casa Real, and Sierra Health Care Center did not respond to requests for comment.

Nearly all the nursing homes in the state are Medicare- or Medicaid-certified. Reported infractions range from the relatively minor (failing to give adequate notice before switching roommates, not promptly delivering mail) to the potentially deadly (improper fire safety precautions, abuse of residents).

Of those 2,217 reported deficiencies, 115 are considered serious: rated a J, K or L on a severity scale of A to L, meaning that the problem creates an “immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety.”

An analysis by the investigative journalism organization ProPublica showed that of 74 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified homes located in New Mexico, inspectors reported serious deficiencies in 36 of them between 2015 and April 2018.

By that measure, New Mexico is the worst in the nation for serious deficiencies on a per-nursing-home basis, according to the analysis.

Nursing homes here have been fined $2.42 million between 2015 and April 2018 and had their Medicare and Medicaid payments suspended for compliance issues 44 times over the same time period.

A spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health’s Division of Health Improvement said in a statement that the department “take(s) seriously our role to protect New Mexico’s elderly population.” There were 5,749 nursing home residents in New Mexico as of 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The spokesman said the state conducts inspections of nursing homes every 12 to 15 months or when a complaint is received; the findings are then reported to CMS, which determines penalties and actions.

‘Very concerned’

The way some penalties are applied is likely to change soon.

As part of a Trump administration effort to relax regulations in the sector, CMS has announced it is changing an Obama-era rule. The shift will result in smaller fines for noncompliant nursing homes.

The changes have been criticized by advocates for the elderly and hailed by the industry, which argues the rules are burdensome and mean caretakers spend less time with their patients and more time on paperwork.

The industry association that represents nursing home in New Mexico claims that, in several respects, nursing homes here outperform the national average.

Jason Espinoza, the New Mexico Health Care Association’s executive director, said in a statement that New Mexico “does very well in eliminating physical restraint usage, reducing the use of antipsychotics and managing (urinary tract infections) through our infection control efforts.” He also said the association has a registered nurse on staff dedicated to working with individual facilities on quality improvement, among other initiatives focused on addressing deficiencies.

Still, a spokesman for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said in an email that the agency is “very concerned” about the status of resident care in the state.

The office is pursuing a civil case against two nursing home operators, Preferred Care and Cathedral Rock, who are accused of failing to provide basic services on a regular basis to residents at seven nursing homes in the state.

The AG’s Office spokesman said litigation is meant to be a deterrent against “other current operators that are not providing adequate nursing home care.”

Preferred Care and Cathedral Rock did not respond to requests for comment.

But Michael Parks, an attorney with the Albuquerque-based Senior Citizens Law Office, said that while regulators have long recognized problems within the nursing home system, they are forced to reckon with the reality of what closing any of those facilities would mean.

“In my judgment, there has long been a tension between some enforcement activities and the need to place patients in facilities,” Parks said.

It’s a tension, he said, that is only likely to get worse as the state’s population continues to age and the need for those facilities grows.

In addition to enforcement actions available to the AG’s Office, the state Department of Health can revoke a nursing home’s license.

By 2030, New Mexico will have the fourth-largest population in the country of people age 65 or older as a percentage of the overall population, according to a 2016 Legislative Finance Committee report.

A shifting landscape

In that report, the committee identifies several factors behind quality of care issues in New Mexico nursing homes, an issue it characterized then as a “growing concern.”

Specifically, the report notes that Medicaid has increasingly covered home- and community-based care options, leading to fewer nursing home residents with higher – and more expensive – needs. As a result, nursing home revenues are declining, and Medicaid and other patient revenues haven’t offset the rising costs of caring for more expensive residents, according to the report.

As of 2016, New Mexico nursing homes were also providing fewer overall staffing hours per resident compared to the national average and that of neighboring states. Higher staffing levels are correlated with better quality of care, according to the report.

Among recommendations made by the committee: Adjust the state’s Medicaid reimbursement system to account for changes in resident needs, and more closely track indicators like serious deficiencies and staffing levels.

A New Mexico Human Services Department spokeswoman said that after the legislative report was published, the agency met with the New Mexico Health Care Association and performed an analysis on the impact of a transition to a different reimbursement model, one that would weight more heavily the resource-intensive nature of caring for today’s nursing home residents.

“After considerable research, the department decided that it wasn’t fiscally possible,” said the spokeswoman in a statement.

However, she said the agency is working with managed care organizations to find ways to reward outstanding nursing homes, what she described as a “key goal” for the state’s Medicaid program, Centennial Care.

The department also implemented a 2.7 percent funding increase in the daily Medicaid reimbursement rate for nursing facilities in January, and in July they will get an additional increase of 1.84 percent.

A Department of Health spokesman said the agency has “created a strategic plan focused on improvements in the areas that will have the greatest impact on the health priorities in New Mexico.”

In an effort to improve Vida Encantada Nursing & Rehab in Las Vegas, N.M., Harvey Pelovsky, managing partner of parent company Rim Country Health, said the facility has “dramatically changed” many parts of its operation in recent years, including increasing staffing levels.

Vida Encantada has been cited by inspectors for 61 deficiencies since 2015, accord to federal data. And while Pelovsky said he’s confident those changes will mean better inspection reports in the future for the facility, he said systemwide reform will likely require a shift in state policy.

“I’d encourage people to educate themselves on the reimbursement issues, and educate their state legislators,” he said. “Nursing homes are an important part of the continuum of care. They shouldn’t be the weakest link.”

Four highly penalized New Mexico nursing homes

Data based on reports filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services between 2015 and April 2018 compiled by the investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

Name: Casa Arena Blanca Nursing Center

Location: Alamogordo

Among highest in state for: Serious deficiencies (nine). Inspectors have also found 67 total deficiencies at Casa Arena Blanca since 2015.

Response: “Though our facility has experienced challenges in the past, we are taking necessary steps to address them,” Jeffrey Adisam, Casa Arena Blanca’s administrator said in a statement. “Everyone associated with our facility remains committed to providing the highest level of compassion and care to our residents, and we look forward to improved surveys in the future.”

Name: Casa Real

Location: Santa Fe

Among highest in state for: Total deficiencies (101). Of those, inspectors found five serious deficiencies. The home was hit with $122,867 in fines and three payment suspensions from Medicaid or Medicare in the past three years. It is also a “special focus facility,” a federal designation given to nursing homes that have “a history of serious quality issues.” Casa Real is listed in a recent CMS report as a facility that has shown improvement.

Response: Casa Real directed a request for comment to its parent, Texas-based Preferred Care Group. Preferred Care did not respond to a request for comment.

Name: Good Samaritan Society — Manzano Del Sol

Location: Albuquerque

Among highest in state for: Fines ($220,214). Manzano Del Sol has also had two payment suspensions since 2015.

Response: A spokesman for the facility’s parent company, Good Samaritan Society, said in a statement that Manzano Del Sol is committed to “addressing issues raised by the New Mexico Department of Health surveys.” He also noted the nursing home recently received an award as part of a national program that sets “specific, measurable targets to further improve quality of care in America’s skilled nursing centers and assisted living communities.”

Name: Mission Arch Center

Location: Roswell

Among highest in state for: Payment suspensions (four). Mission Arch Center has also been fined $177,077 and was cited for seven serious deficiencies in the past three years.

Response: A Mission Arch Center spokeswoman said the facility is “committed to providing high-quality care to our patients and residents” and supports the mission and quality initiatives of the New Mexico Health Care Association, of which it is a member.

What you can do
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Nursing Home Compare website (www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare) has detailed information about Medicare- and Medicaid-certified facilities. ProPublica’s Nursing Home Inspect (projects.propublica.org/nursing-homes/) allows users to search through federal inspection reports by location, nursing home name, or search term. Michael Parks, an attorney with the Albuquerque-based Senior Citizens Law Office, says there’s no replacement for an on-site visit. “Everyone says, ‘See how it smells,’ but it’s true,” he said. He also said witnessing something like a group of residents slumped over in their wheelchairs could speak to an overuse of medications to keep an individual docile, or possibly other abuse. To register a complaint about a nursing home, contact the state’s long-term care ombudsman. The number is 1-866-842-9230 in Albuquerque and northwestern New Mexico; 1-866-451-2901 in Santa Fe and northeastern New Mexico; and 1-800-762-8690 in Las Cruces, Roswell and southern New Mexico.

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Program fights child abuse by providing a stable home

Carlotta and Jeremy Preece were living with their toddler C.J. and teenage daughter in the Tewa Motor Lodge for more than a year when Children, Youth and Families came knocking to investigate an allegation of neglect. (Don Usner/Searchlight New Mexico)

Room No. 30 in the Tewa Motor Lodge was the only home 3-year-old C.J. Preece had ever known.

The $30-a-night motel, on a seedy stretch of Albuquerque’s east Central Avenue, was what her parents could afford. The Preeces were struggling with drug and alcohol abuse when, in 2015, a caseworker from the Children, Youth and Families Department knocked on their door to investigate an allegation of neglect.

“I was really mad,” recalls her mother, Carlotta Preece. “I mean, CYFD came to the motel room and I snapped at them. They asked me, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I need a home.’ ”

They got one, thanks to “Keeping Families Together (KFT),” a pilot project that addresses the intersecting problems of homelessness and child abuse and neglect. It is the first time New Mexico has turned to housing as a tool to reduce the state’s longstanding epidemic of child abuse.

The idea comes by way of New Mexico Appleseed, an Albuquerque think tank that estimates that 16,000 homeless children reside in New Mexico, placing the state among the 10 worst in the nation. That figure, combined with statistics that 72 percent of mothers and 47 percent of fathers who lose their children to foster care are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness, convinced state officials the program had merit.

When New Mexico decided to invest $2.9 million of federal funding in KFT, child advocates and policymakers asked the following questions: Could a roof over their heads, and ancillary services such as drug treatment and therapy, help keep families together? More importantly, could a home be enough to keep a child safe from abuse and neglect?

Three years later, the answer is a tentative yes.

KFT has provided stable housing for 86 families and 267 children in Bernalillo, Valencia and Doña Ana counties. It has prevented dozens of kids from ending up in foster care. It has also reduced the incidence of repeat abuse and neglect by two-thirds among those families who participated in the program for at least a year, according to Albuquerque Heading Home, the nonprofit that CYFD contracted to run the pilot program.

“It’s the first initiative that I have found in New Mexico that truly addresses housing instability as a root cause of child maltreatment,” says Jenny Ramo, Appleseed’s executive director. “When you do not have adequate housing – whether you are in a motel, your car or a house with too many families – you are significantly more likely to abuse or neglect your child.”

But when the KFT program ends in June, some 44 families will be dropped – including the Preeces. And while CYFD plans to continue the program under a new contract, the agency is now grappling with how to learn from the problems evident in the pilot.

Among them: Far too many families were placed in housing they will never be able to afford on their own; overwhelmed caseworkers were unable to provide the attention required by needy clients; the “permanent” housing recommended by Appleseed turned out to be merely temporary, potentially destabilizing fragile families.

What’s more, Appleseed, CYFD and Heading Home – in other words, the think tank that promoted the idea, the state agency that administered the contract and the nonprofit that ran the program – still don’t agree on either the mission or its methods.

“This isn’t permanent funding and this isn’t permanent housing,” says Emily Martin, who manages the program for CYFD.

Ramo argues that misses the point: “If there is a pie chart of these families, some percentage are never going to support themselves. They will go back to where they came from and start again with the problems and the expenses.”

There is a potential cost savings, says Ramo, but the bottom line is that “these children deserve a safe place to go to sleep at night.”

A place to call home

When the Preece family moved out of the Tewa Lodge and into a three-story townhouse in a gated community in the Jackson neighborhood of Albuquerque, the first thing C.J. did was number the bedrooms 1, 2, 3: one for her parents, one for her teenage sister, and one just for her.

Now, two-and-a-half years of life-changing stability are about to come to a halt.

Carlotta has medical issues that keep her from working. Her husband Jeremy, sober for eight months, brings home $600 every two weeks as night manager at a busy Mexican restaurant. At $1,210 a month, their three-bedroom townhouse is way beyond their means.

A family portrait on the fireplace mantle shows C.J. smiling in a holiday dress with her parents and sister. The girls have been doing well, says Otero, their caseworker.

Sitting on her couch in a tidy, carpeted living room with a big-screen TV, Carlotta nods at the family portrait in pride-of-place on the fireplace mantle.

But she is worried about the future.

“I don’t want to go back to where we started,” she says.

Jeremy agrees: “I’ve had a little taste, and I don’t want to go back, you know what I mean?”

Blocking the path to foster care

Traumatic for children and expensive for the state, foster care is almost always a decision of last resort. A single placement costs about $21,000 a year, while a case of maltreatment that ends in adoption costs an estimated $107,000, according to CYFD. Altogether, the state spends $145 million a year in state and federal money on the problem of child abuse and neglect.

The KFT program is comparably cost-effective: Including the price of rent, utilities and a caseworker, housing a family runs the state between $14,000 and $19,000 a year, according to Heading Home.

“If we can keep the family together safely, we want to keep the family together,” says Martin.

In 2014, the Legislative Finance Committee reported that New Mexico spends less than most states per capita to prevent children from ending up in foster care. The report recommended that CYFD recalibrate its focus to prevention. But since then, some preventative services that have shown results have been abandoned; others, like KFT, haven’t been scientifically tested.

Meanwhile, the number of kids in foster care has risen 44 percent over the past five years to about 2,600 from about 1,800.

The consequences of not investing in families early can be devastating. A Searchlight New Mexico investigation found widespread abuse in the state’s residential treatment foster care system, where the most troubled kids end up.

Homelessness itself is not tantamount to child neglect, but it is a significant stressor for families. A University of Chicago report, “Families at the Nexus of Housing and Child Welfare,” finds that “addressing housing needs of homeless or precariously housed families may eliminate the risks to children’s health and safety.”

Families that participate in KFT have access to a wealth of resources: workforce training, help applying for public housing vouchers, gas and grocery assistance, mental health counseling and drug rehabilitation.

The program doesn’t force parents to take advantage of the opportunities. But for those who do, the barriers to success for some are still too high. Parents who want to work may not have a high school degree or a car. For mothers who have several young children, the cost of childcare may be burdensome. Other, drug-addicted parents are struggling to get clean – or may not be trying.

As far as the program is concerned, the parents’ success isn’t what matters most.

“The focus really is on the children,” says Dorothee Otero, Heading Home housing director. “We want to prevent children from being placed into foster care.”

Some 72 percent of mothers who lose their children to foster care in New Mexico are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness.

A crushing reality

Susan Wells, a KFT caseworker, crisscrosses Las Cruces juggling the complex needs of 20 families – nearly 100 people including the children. She checks in with a couple who are kicking heroin addiction while raising a 3-year-old daughter, then visits parents who recently got their six kids back from CYFD custody after they managed to beat a destructive meth habit.

As the program winds down, Wells has been struggling to find options for families who were placed in housing they can’t afford. Rocío Valenzuela, a mother of five, breaks down at her kitchen table as the caseworker explains the reality that’s about to hit: She has to move.

“What people need in terms of housing first is a dependable living environment that they can afford on their own at some reasonable point,” Wells says.

The next contract CYFD awards may address housing affordability and caseload; the request for proposals hasn’t yet been released.

Valenzuela’s rent is $1,200. She recently lost her minimum-wage job as a maid for a national hotel chain. Her children are now 12, 11, 9, 6 and 5. She doesn’t have a car.

“I tell the kids we’re going to try to have good memories,” Valenzuela says, wiping tears. “This is the only time you’ll ever live in a house like this. You know, we can’t afford it. That way you can say, ‘I lived in a two-story house once.’ ”

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