Belen City Council considers new future for old city hall; businessman involved

........................................................................................................................................................................................

A Rio Communities businessman is looking to restore Belen's old city hall while operating his business out of the building at the same time.

Belen city councilors listened to the proposal by Gary Nelson, owner of Casa de Amor, during a recent council meeting.

"Casa de Amor would like an opportunity to address restoring a historical marker of Belen as well as using the building to help develop the business …" Nelson said.

Nelson's business specializes in repairing, refinishing, upholstering, designing and manufacturing.

He proposed a rent-free lease agreement with the city for six months to a year, which would allow operation of his business from the vacant building, in exchange for restoring the city-owned building.

These restorations, which would bring the building up to current building standards, would include landscaping, repairs to the roof, ceiling and floors and plumbing and electrical work.

"(We're) restoring its natural beauty as well as adding new beauty to the building," Nelson said.

Copies of requisitions and receipts would document the monetary value of repairs to illustrate $12,000 worth of work each year. Nelson said he hopes to receive a two- to four-year lease.

Upon completion of the project, Nelson estimates to have reached a total repair goal of up to $50,000.

"God has given us a vision, and with the help of everyone, we can meet that vision," he said.

Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said this proposal is a great use of the building, which was erected in 1937, instead of it "just sitting there."

"It's a mess and it's going to continue to be a mess," Jaramillo said. "There's just so much in there that needs to be cleaned and he's willing to do that."

City officials, including the Planning and Zoning Department and Belen Fire Department, discussed completing a full inspection of the building's needs with Nelson.

This is necessary for Nelson to understand the full scope of work before him, Jaramillo said.

Although Nelson has walked through the building, he said he doesn't know the full extent of damages.

"I know that there's a lot of cut things, a lot of electrical parts and things that are gone," he said. "We have to re-establish all of those things. We don't even have any blueprints."

Councilor Jerah Cordova said the city needed to draft a lease agreement carefully to avoid problems that arose in a similar situation with the late Tim Lardner and his wife, Janice.

The couple planned to transform the building into Lardner Cellars & Winery.

Mr. Lardner attempted something similar to that structure, but there were a few issues with the lease that we need to make sure and take care of," Cordova said.

Councilor David Carter said the lease should include a project time table.

A draft lease agreement will be created and forwarded to city attorney Marcus J. Rael, from Robles, Rael and Anaya, P.C., for feedback.

Nelson told councilors he was determined to work on this project.

"I'd love to do this project, and I'd hate to lose the building," he said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.