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City committee votes on Health Department lease

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The state has agreed to double the amount of rent it pays for this Roswell Air Center building on East Challenger Street, but there is still some opposition to the lease. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A lease with the state Health Department for a building at the Roswell Air Center still has some opposition but has been forwarded to the Roswell City Council for consideration at a future meeting.

The Public Health Division of the New Mexico Department of Health has agreed to increase its rent payments by 100% to about $12 a square foot for its regional administrative offices at 9 E. Challenger St., Air Center Director Scott Stark said.

Representatives with the state also signed for a five-year term to start Feb. 1 on the site, also known as Roswell Air Center Building 611. As written now, the lease would have three extension options of five years each, which could mean the department would occupy the building until 2041.

Total rent for the 18,784-square-foot space would be $225,408 annually, or $56,352 a quarter, for the first year, with 3% annual increases. The value of the lease for the initial five-year period would be about $1.2 million.

The Roswell City Council Legal Committee heard about the lease negotiations during its Thursday afternoon meeting and voted 2-1 to forward the legal agreement to the entire City Council for its consideration.

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The possibility of terminating the lease had been discussed briefly at a Nov. 30 special meeting of the Roswell City Council at the same time city councilors talked about their opposition to state public health orders and voted for a directive that allows the city manager to keep city facilities open.

Discussions about the lease were dropped without a vote after city councilors were informed that the state already had sent back a signed lease. City councilors then decided to allow the lease to go through the typical committee and City Council vetting and voting process.

While Councilors Judy Stubbs and Jason Perry voted Thursday to forward the lease, Councilor Barry Foster again expressed his opposition to it.

He explained that his thoughts predated any tensions between the city and state over COVID-related restrictions, which Perry confirmed.

Foster said he isn’t comfortable giving the state a five-year lease. He said he thinks the building ideally should be occupied by an aviation-related tenant and that the state should rent from the private sector, which he said charges $12 a square foot to $17 a square foot for office space.

“I think if we did a lease for one-year terms for five years that they would get the gist that we want them to find another place within the city of Roswell,” Foster said.

Stubbs asked how many other Air Center tenants outside the airfield fence pay as much as $12 a square foot, with Stark saying none. She also raised a question about the number of Department of Health employees affected, which Foster said is 27 at the current time.

Perry said he thought the state would probably be willing to move if the city found a better tenant, while City Attorney Parker Patterson said that he had inserted a 90-day termination clause by the city into the lease after the special meeting of the City Council. That clause still has to be reviewed by the state.

“My concern is that I don’t want to end up in a situation of putting them in a circumstance that in one year they are out or something like that and we do have them move out and then we have an empty building for six years or eight years as we are waiting for this company to come in and take the building,” Perry said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.