Steve Hansen: City making progress cleaning up Tucumcari

By Steve Hansen

Former QCS Managing Editor

While Tucumcari rejoices at the end of a major downtown eyesore after eight years of red tape and noise, another Tucumcari building site was quietly leveled at the same time only a year after a catastrophic fire.

The site of Tucumcari’s Hampton Inn, destroyed by fire on July 16 last year, is now a vacant, level patch of concrete. It took a year to be leveled, compared with the Sands Dorsey building’s eight years of embarrassing the city.

The Hampton Inn, owned by Neil Patel and Nitin Bhakta of Tucumcari, was properly insured, so the building has been disposed of completely within a reasonable time.

The Sands Dorsey drama began with a fire in 2007.

Owner Robert Hengstenberg apparently started the fire by accident with a blowtorch.

While Hengstenberg, through his attorney, George Adelo of Santa Fe, avoided financial responsibility through magistrate and district court proceedings, the city debated whether to save or tear down the building.

The former Sands Dorsey Drug Store housed memories of fountain treats and meetings with friends among life-long Tucumcari residents, so it had a place in the city’s collective heart and its history.

Another fire in 2012 ended that debate, and left rubble and gaping interior spaces exposed to public view.

The City Commission and city officials sought grant funding to tear down the building, but there were no grants to cover demolition.

Using existing tax funds for the project was out of the question, until it wasn’t.

Somehow, a few months ago, Jared Langenegger, the city manager, was able to tell the commission that there were sufficient general funds to tear down Sands Dorsey. The commission, on a roll with its newfound unity, voted to get ’er done.

Today, the Sands Dorsey building’s site is on its way to becoming a patch of urban parkland.

The question now is how Tucumcari can have more Hampton Inn outcomes and fewer Sands Dorsey fiascos.

For starters, the city’s new nuisance ordinance requires the owner of an abandoned business building to carry insurance, Langenegger said.

It also charges owners for legal fees and other administrative costs when the city places liens on property.

Langenegger said this means liens will be costly even if property is not sold, which places a greater burden on owners to maintain their property and get rid of derelict buildings on their own.

That, and the city’s bolstering of the building code enforcement staff, shows the city is ready to make progress on that front.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:

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