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The University of New Mexico is looking to expand its tech park and create a bustling entertainment district, in part through a quarter-century of public financing.
The city and UNM, through their private, not-for-profit Lobo Development Corporation, are creating a Tax Incremental Development District (TIDD), which will allow future taxes to fund large-scale development projects. The National Finance Council is scheduled to act on the request on December 20.
These districts allow developers to collect a percentage of future gross income and property taxes to offset the cost of building public infrastructure, such as improving streets or sewer lines.
The UNM South Campus area will also allow developers to collect taxpayer dollars to cover an estimated $136 million in architectural improvements planned for the UNM Technology Park.
Kelly Ward, executive director of Lobo Development, said the total tax revenue shifted to TIDD is expected to be $336 million over 25 years. The TIDD board, made up of city and state officials and representatives of Lobo Development, will collect the money and reimburse the developer.
University officials envision bars, shopping centres, restaurants, hotels and cinemas, as well as an enhanced business park. Most of the land in the area is close to the University Arena and other stadiums south of Albuquerque.
The area consists primarily of the University and some urban land straddling University Avenue from Basehart to Gibson. According to the summary document, it is approximately 337 acres.
Improvements to the tech park will also bring high-paying jobs to the region, UNM officials said. The city expects the revamped South Campus will create approximately 4,000 new jobs and $4.2 billion in wages over the district’s 25-year lifespan.
“Our vision at UNM is to solve critical community challenges. We do so…by building an educated, healthy and economically active New Mexico,” UNM President Garnett Stokes said in a statement last week said at the State Finance Council meeting in May.
Justin Snyder, who works in commercial real estate, spoke out against TIDD at a recent county board meeting. The county board approved the area.
Such a development, he said, would give the university an unfair advantage over other commercial landlords that pay property taxes that UNM does not. This will allow the school to rent office space at below market rates.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to be renting space that the taxpayer pays for, and they’re making a profit without paying taxes,” Snyder said. “UNM is pretty much selling their tax-exempt status.”
Ward said rebalancing tax revenue would be a smart investment for taxpayers because the money would come from entirely new taxes that don’t currently exist.
Iowa State University, the University of Oklahoma and Purdue University are some other public universities that have used public funds to develop land into research parks.
“I think it’s important to emphasize that this is not a tax increase,” Ward said. “It’s part of the new revenue from additional economic activity.”
Ward said some developments were subject to the levy. For example, if a developer built a restaurant or theater on UNM land, Ward said the building would be privately owned and subject to property taxes. However, university land is not subject to taxation.
Members of the state’s finance council questioned last month whether UNM would forego a lease on the proposed site at a lower price than other commercial property owners.
Teresa Costantinidis, the university’s executive vice president for finance and administration, said the practice violated anti-donation provisions.
“We are not allowed to offer discounts to private entities,” she said. “We’re going to make sure that experience doesn’t happen here.”