Coal for Batra & Bellis, Candy Canes for Blake and Bacon

By: Bill Whaley
15 December, 2017

On Culture, Politics, Friends, and Christmas

For me the Christmas holidays signal a period of escape from duty and time for an indolent reflection on the past year. Whether skier, parciante, or merchandiser, we wait collectively for snow while the sharp temperatures focus attention on the perpetual tasks associated with Taos: firewood and heat, a vehicle that starts, visitors, the celebrations associated with the holidays, doing errands while seeing family and running into old friends. Tonight at 5 pm I’m going to drop by SOMOS to listen to Los Alamos Revisited: A Workers History by Peter Malmgren & Kay Matthews, a book designed by Wink’s Kelly Pasholk.

A Modest Christmas Stocking

Yesterday I met with mayoral candidate Darien Fernandez, a one-time student in one of my upper division courses at UNM Extended University (RIP) and we discussed the state of the town. Basically Darien wants to promote a vision of Taos that includes the historic and current culture, transparent government, inclusive decision-making, and a kind of future that acknowledges the strengths of community and its organic connections to place and people with a contemporary focus on the influx of millennials and music while not forgetting the locals who brought us to the dance. He’s up against a popular incumbent, Dan Barrone, an expert at photo ops but whose administration has been criticized for “top-down” fiats and back door and secret communication with developers.

While Darien supports some of the Mayor’s initiatives in terms of music, the Farmer’s market, and tourism, he thinks the programs could be more modestly designed while taking into consideration the folks involved in long-term business and local culture. He suggests neighborhood meetings and meetings with Plaza merchants prior to development decisions or a more modest commitment of town employees to the singular vision of the Town Manager’s  might better serve the community as a whole. While the incumbent Mayor has concentrated on media blitzes or catering to perceived populist appetites, the challenger is talking about a more modest approach, including the handiwork associated with the nuts and bolts of operating a town and presenting a cultural vision that reflects historic and current connections to people and place.

Candidate and schoolteacher Pascualito Maestas, we hear, intends to run for council and supporters of incumbent Judi Cantu are urging her to continue nagging the town about local cultural issues.

Coal in Christmas Stockings

Recently, this reporter obtained documents that confirm an intuition about the Jay Batra-Rick Bellis hustle and lack of vetting re: Batra’s ambiguous financial ability to complete the Don Fernando renovation and Holiday Inn express projects.

According to documents, construction liens amounting to about $122,000 for concrete work and tree trimming were filed back in July of 2017 against Batra and the Don Fernando. In October the Town reimbursed Batra for some $406,000 per the state’s development grant. About $90,000 remains. Meanwhile, a third local vendor filed a lien for non-payment in November for an additional $67,000 plus dollars. So when will the Don Fernando open for business?

Here’s the Batra-Bellis kicker.

Last summer, 2017, the public will remember the Holiday Inn development controversy. At the June 27 public meeting, Batra reduced the request from a four-story hotel to a three-story hotel and the project was approved at the subsequent the Aug. 22 town meeting.

Batra, the buyer, entered into a contract with Taos Land Corporation, the seller, on May 21, 2015 for the four-acre designated Holiday Inn development next to the Hampton Inn. But the seller notified buyer Batra of “demand” for annual payment on May 31, 2017 and, according to court documents, Batra continued in “default” for more than thirty days. In fact, during the summer controversy about the four-story debacle, Batra was subject to “forfeiture” and the seller “terminated” the contract for the sale on Aug. 4, 2017, according to documents.

On Aug. 11, Batra cut a check for $674, 063.04 to the buyer. But the default wasn’t cured until Sept. 18, 2017 when a warranty deed was issued by Taos Land Company, seller, to buyer, Batra of Batra Hospitality Group.

So during all the divisive controversy last summer, Batra and his sponsors at Town Hall were blowing smoke and using mirrors to “partially” deceive the public. Course Local leaders and the Town of Taos have a history of making deals and encouraging “insider” and “outsider” investment in economic development projects that fail and contribute to the pain and suffering of local vendors, contractors, and ordinary working stiffs.

(At some point Friction will name names and Batra beware: two of the lien holders are popular and well-known local fellas with their own constituencies. One has a history of playing “hard ball.”)

Apparently the current Town of Taos administration, Bellis and Barrone, have learned little or nothing despite experience with the local tale of KCEC’s dive into debt at the Command Center, Broadband, and due to the Guzman Energy fiascoes, never mind the history of two Holiday Inns, (Don Fernando and Quality Inn), both of which have lost their franchises and turned tail. And what happened to the “grandiose” Smith’s deal when Bellis and Barrone ignored the community?)

We can all recite our favorite tale of tone-deaf insiders and outsiders or mention our favorite franchise failure and other misguided attempts at “economic development”: Denny’s, Applebee’s, the first KFC, Arby’s, the Glove Factory, Gately’s at Hotel La Fonda, the Mudd millions and Worrell multi-millions that have left the community with still-born spectacles like the Plaza Theatre Building. Will El Monte ever become a “viable” enterprise or just get flipped from one buyer to the next?

Candy Canes

Let’s face it: TSV heir and smarty-pants Mickey Blake found a “sensitive billionaire” (if there is such a thing) to buy the Blake family legacy. Only a month ago, TSV sided with local protesters and acquiesced immediately to neighbors who  protested against dumping contaminated topsoil nearby and moved the waste elsewhere. Louis Bacon apparently likes Southern Colorado and northern New Mexico; he’s investing not a few or fifty but more like hundreds of millions of dollars in the environs and the ski area. Mickey said something to the effect that the family couldn’t afford the upgrades. (BTW: El Prado’s John Painter called and said all future Abeyta implementation meetings would be open to the press and public!)

More Coal: I’m not sure the Town and Coop can afford anymore upgrades from hustlers like Bellis, Reyes, and Batra. After all, a million here and a million there adds up (as Senator Everett Dickson, R. Illinois, once said). Why Luis is even deleting “your favorite composer’s” phone line and Internet dial-up service, while Barrone runs up the light bill! Only a year ago at Christmas we discovered the Coop was retro-actively billing commercial and residential customers? Really, Luis? Thanks to the PRC staff and Intervener-protestors the Coop “discreetly” rebated some $250,000 in small amounts so nobody would notice. But we did, notice.

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