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  • Realty & Development Advisors, L.L.C.
  • 8814 Horizon Blvd. NE #400
  • Albuquerque, NM 87113


$9M Breathes New Life into Old Building

A one-time hub of psychiatric health care next to Balloon Fiesta Park, most recently a nursing home, is getting a $9 million renovation into a skilled health services facility.

The 66-bed Fiesta Park project is expected to provide transitional care from hospital to home for 700 to 900 patients a year, most of whom will be placed through discharge plans from hospitals after surgery or illness.

The project is a joint venture of Albuquerque-based WW Healthcare and Cauwels & Stuve Realty and Development.

“Skilled health services has evolved into a specialized field,” said Jerry Williamson, partner with Horace Winchester in WW Healthcare, which currently owns and operates the 369-bed Princeton Place skilled nursing center at 500 Louisiana NE.

“For people who need short-term care and rehabilitation for 23 to 48 days, services have been delivered through an antiquated model where it’s in a wing or small area of a long-term care facility,” Williamson said. “This will be a specialty building that focuses on a single health care field.”

On top of the 100 permanent jobs, which will pay $25,000 to $120,000 a year, the Fiesta Park project will employ about 75 construction workers. The nine-month project is scheduled for completion in April of next year.

Deep Roots
The existing 61,000-square-foot building at 8820 Horizon NE, behind the upscale four-story Horizon office building on Alameda, was built in 1961 but has roots going back 30 years earlier.

The Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Mich., built the three-story, red-tile-roofed Nazareth Sanitarium a stone’s throw away in 1930 for patients with tuberculosis. This original building, which was variously reported to have 40 or 55 beds, was torn down in 1973.

The desolate location was more than 10 miles by dirt road from Albuquerque and generally known as the “Rattlesnake Mesa,” according to stories published in the Journal. Corrales was reached by a single-lane steel bridge back then.

Reflecting a change in mission, the sanitarium became Nazareth Psychiatric Hospital in 1946. An affiliated school of psychiatric nursing opened in 1951.

A fund-raising campaign preceded construction of the existing building, which was expanded to a total of 92 beds in 1963. Hallmarks of the building’s design were an airy, 48-by-85-foot dining room and five “patios,” or interior courtyards, to provide patients with outdoor recreation.

Nazareth Hospital’s heyday was the 1960s when it experimented with “psychodramas,” where patients acted out their problems to relieve tension, and what was described as a “new concept” of working with the families of patients.

The Dominican Sisters sold the hospital for just more than $1 million in early 1976 to the Vista Hill Foundation of San Diego. Renamed Vista Sandia Hospital, it continued in operation until closed in late 1987. The property remained vacant until Albuquerque-based Horizon Healthcare bought it 1993.

The building went through a $1.5 million renovation into a center for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Horizon sold the renamed Valle Norte Caring Center in 1997 to a Maryland company. A couple changes in ownership later, Valle Norte closed in 2008.

Investors Buy the Site
Jeff Stuve and Paul Cauwels, principals of Cauwels & Stuve, were among a group of local investors who purchased the 61,000-square-foot former Valle Norte building, a second former Horizon Healthcare building nearby and 18.7 acres in September 2008.

“Our assumption was, if the Valle Norte operator was compelled to close down, then maybe the building’s use as a nursing home was at an end,” Stuve said. “We were going to convert it to offices if and when the office market came back.”

During the 1990s, Stuve was director of purchasing and construction at Horizon, which for a time was the largest private-sector employer in New Mexico. The job gave him a deep background in the construction of nursing homes and other post-acute health care facilities.

Winchester and Williamson were scouting the metro area for a location for their proposed skilled health services facility, concentrating on the West Side, when they learned of Stuve’s background through networking and requested a meeting.

By all three men’s accounts, the conversation turned from discussing building design and the local health care market to Stuve saying, in effect, “We just happen to have this empty 61,000-square-foot nursing home across the parking lot from where we’re sitting.”

A walk-through later, Winchester and Williamson had found a diamond in the rough. “We liked it,” Williamson said. “It had features that would be difficult and expensive to replicate with new construction. The things that caught our eye were the very large dining area, the large patient rooms and the courtyards.”

The original 1960 design still holds up today. Most of the patient rooms open to the interior courtyards rather than long corridors with a nursing station at one end, said Williamson, who immediately saw the potential to enclose some of the courtyards for needed amenities.

Ultimately, two of the five courtyards will be enclosed, one for a physical therapy gym enclosed in glass and the other to house amenities like a coffee shop and library. The enclosed courtyards will add 4,754 square feet to the building.

The former nursing home’s two-story clerestory entrance, added during Horizon’s 1993 renovation, will be converted to a chapel. The new main entrance will be moved to the east end of what will remain the building’s lobby.

The facility will have the high-end finishes and amenities of a spa, said Dennis Ward, who will move from Princeton Place to be the Fiesta Park project’s administrator.

Fiesta Park Players
WW Healthcare was formed in late 2007 by Horace Winchester of Placitas and Jerry Williamson of Dallas for the March 2008 acquisition of Princeton Place Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, a 369-bed nursing home at 500 Louisiana NE that serves as the company’s flagship property.

Winchester is CEO of WW Healthcare and is a founding member and is currently president of the New Mexico Health Care Association. A CPA, he spent most of his 28-year career as an executive with JP Morgan Chase.

Williamson is operations manager of WW Healthcare. He’s been an operations, development and financial manager for multi-state
health care companies for 23 years.

WW Healthcare’s involvement in the Fiesta Park project is two part, as a partner in the renovation of the existing building and as the operator of the skilled health services facility.

Cauwels & Stuve Realty and Development Advisors provided the architectural services for the Fiesta Park project. Bank of Albuquerque provided the financing. Enterprise Builders is the general contractor.

copyright 2011 Albuquerque Journal, reprinted by permission