City Commission debates future of downtown business incubator

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AZTEC — The future of the Aztec business incubator, or HUB, is up in the air as the city nears the end of its contract with the Aztec Presbyterian Church for the building.

The city entered into a lease agreement in 2015 with the option to purchase the building for $135,000 once the two-year contract ended. The lease agreement will expire on Jan. 1.

The city did not budget for the purchase of the building this year and had hoped to receive federal or state assistance to pay for the purchase.

The city may be awarded a federal grant, but even if it does, it will not be received by the time the contract expires, according to city development director Steven Saavedra and Mayor Sally Burbridge.

The city has been in discussions with the U.S. Economic Development Administration about a grant that would provide the city with either 60 or 70 percent of the purchase cost for the building. The grant also would prevent the city from selling the building for 15 years. 

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Saavedra warned the City Commission during a work session Monday that the federal budget has not yet been approved and that the money may not be available until March.

The city's contract requires either purchasing the building or vacating it by January. If the city is going to use federal money to purchase it, the Aztec Presbyterian Church would have to be willing to extend the contract.

Another option is a private company taking over the building and purchasing it. A firm that operates several incubators in the state has expressed interest in the Aztec location.

Representatives of that company are coming to tour it at the beginning of December, but the city wants to give a 30-day notice to the tenants of the building, as well as to the church, about its intentions.

That means the City Commission likely will have to make a decision during its meeting on Tuesday about the future of the building.

If the city decides to buy the building without the grant, finance director Kathy Lamb said it likely would have to hold off on hiring police officers and a procurement officer. She said she is also anticipating needing additional funds for the construction of the new arterial route — a road intended to divert commercial traffic around downtown.

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Commissioner Austin Randall expressed some interest in walking away from the business incubator.

"There's always something that comes up that we need money for," he said.

However, Randall said he is concerned about what would happen to the businesses located within the incubator.

One of these businesses, 550 Brewing, must submit its application to have its liquor license renewed by Dec. 1. The Paschall family, which owns the business, attended the meeting.

After the meeting, Mike Paschall said the family has been looking for other locations in Aztec for the brewery, but they have not found any promising places to move their business. 

The tenant agreement between the city and 550 Brewing allows the Paschalls to operate out of the HUB for three years, but it can be terminated with a 30-day notice by either party.

The brewery opened its doors in late December 2016, but it had occupied the space for several months before it opened.

"I think the taproom can be an integral part in what they are wanting to do with the downtown," he said.

He said everyone enjoys going to taprooms, and every successful downtown area has craft beer.

"If Aztec loses that nine months after it started, I think that's a step in the wrong direction," he said.

The City Commission will have a closed meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to continue discussions about the building. 

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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