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Organizers will have $7,000 to spend on deck, furniture, shade

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FARMINGTON — A pair of organizations that promote downtown revitalization in communities across the state have awarded Farmington a $7,000 grant to upgrade an outdoor gathering spot on the west side of downtown.

The New Mexico Resiliency Alliance and New Mexico MainStreet awarded the grant for the project two weeks ago, according to Farmington Downtown coordinator Michael Bulloch. The award is the third such grant the organization has received from the organizations, with the first for coming in 2017 for the pocket park behind Studio 116, now known as the HEart Space, and the second coming in 2018 for the photo mural project at 201 E. Main St. next to Downtown Junkers.

The latest grant is the largest one Farmington has received from the organizations. The HEart Space grant was for $3,500, and the photo mural project grant was for $5,000.

Bulloch said the new grant will be devoted to converting the asphalt-covered area behind 305 W. Main St. – dubbed the Hidden Garden by property owners Karen Ellsbury and Patrick Hazen — into a cozy events space. The area is bordered on the west, north and east sides by buildings, and opens on the south side to an alley. Three businesses have access to the space through their back door — the Arrow Soul Trading Post, Nizhoni Trading and the Museum of Navajo Art & Culture.

"All three of them are Native American-based," he said. "That's kind of cool, so there's a little cultural corner there. They're already talking about things they can do to host events back there.

Bulloch said a deck will be built at the north end of the space, and canvas sails will be stretched above it to provide some relief from the sun, which can turn the enclosed space into a de facto oven on hot days. Overhead lighting already has be added, and chairs, benches, planters and tables will be constructed from recycled wooden pallets.

The project also calls for the construction of a ramp to a vacant garage on the west side of the space to make it complaint with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Bulloch said once that is done, plans call for converting the vacant garage into a microcafe, a speakeasy-type club or an art gallery.

Under the terms of the award, the project must be completed by Dec. 31. Bulloch said the first step is for a New Mexico MainStreet landscape architect to visit the site and help organizers develop a design plan.

After that, volunteer work days will be scheduled. Bulloch hopes to have the deck finished and the sails in place within the next two months, as organizers of the Four Corners Film Festival are planning on holding a party there during their event, which runs Sept. 10-15 in downtown Farmington.

The south side of the space, which opens to the alley, has a chain-link fence and sliding gate with a lock, so the area can be secured at night. Bulloch said the fence likely will have decorative corrugated tin or some other material attached to it to make it more attractive.

Lighting for the project was donated by the Northwest New Mexico Arts Council as part of the recipients' responsibility to match the grant total.

The owners of Arrow Soul already have held a handful of events in the space, most of them focused on painting temporary murals on the surrounding walls. Bulloch said permanent murals will be part of the renovation project.

Arrow Soul owner Luke Paul said he is planning a pair of music and graffiti painting events in the space and adjoining alley on Aug. 16-17, complete with hip hop artists, DJs and dancing. He envisioned using the space creatively the first time he saw it.

"Oh, my gosh — a painter sees something blank, he wants to paint it," he said, grinning broadly.

He could hardly believe it when word of the $7,000 grant reached his ears and Paul realized the money would be available to turn the area behind his business into a showplace.

"We've only been open for four months, but it seems like it's snowballing so quick," he said. "I'm doing what I love — just spreading the art."

The project is the latest in a concerted effort by downtown boosters to identify and remake overlooked, vacant space in the district as construction for the Complete Streets downtown renovation project looms later this year. In addition to the HEart Space and photo mural projects, the city also recently was awarded a $5,000 grant from AARP for the long-planned Breezeway Plaza project just north of TJ's Diner on East Main Street.

More: Downtown mural project resumes, other developments in works

Bulloch said the city had applied for an AARP grant for the project once before and not gotten it, so they scaled back their vision this year, dividing it into phases. The cost of the original project was $250,000, but Bulloch said the more-modest proposal Farmington submitted this year was better received.

The plaza is designed to facilitate access to downtown for patrons of the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center at 109 E. La Plata St. The first phase will include the painting of a mural on the asphalt, lighting and the construction of benches and planters from recycled pallets.

Under the terms of the grant, the project must be completed by November. Bulloch said other phases will be added as additional funding becomes available.

Bulloch said he has been gratified by the success downtown boosters have had in attracting grant funding, and he is pleased to see new projects added to the to-do list as older ones are finished.

More: Historic 'photo mural' project being assembled in downtown Farmington

"We're just excited to see all these things happen downtown and have them already in place when the (Complete Streets) construction is done," he said.

He is particularly proud of the HEart Space, which is also owned by Ellsbury and Hazen.

"Two years ago, that was a gravel parking lot," he said. "It was hot, and nobody used it."

Now, he pointed out, it has become the home of the weekly summer Jazz Jam events presented by the San Juan Jazz Society, attracting a large crowd every Wednesday night. That makes it an example of the kind of positive change such spaces can help create, he said.

"The more spaces we have downtown, the more community groups are going to form and be a part of it," he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610, or via email at measterling@daily-times.com.

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