Allan Affeldt owns historic hospitality locations throughout New Mexico. When the pandemic hit, and was specifically impactful on the hospitality industry, the film industry brought in productions such as the Amazon Prime series Outer Range to Las Vegas, NM, and, in turn, brought in businesses during a time of uncertainty.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
AA: I am an entrepreneur. I have restored a number of historic buildings throughout the southwest. In New Mexico I own The Castaneda and Plaza hotels in Las Vegas, The Legal Tender in Lamy, and I have restored a number of other buildings in Las Vegas.
Tell us more about the Las Vegas properties.
AA: The Castaneda Hotel was the first of the Fred Harvey track site hotels in the southwest, and that became the foundation for Fred Harvey and the empire of hospitality which eventually included the La Fonda in Santa Fe. Many of them were lost which is why we restored this building.
The Plaza Hotel was bult in 1882. At the time it was the fanciest city hotel in New Mexico and was expanded several times throughout the years. It is now a 70-room hotel that looks over the historic plaza in Las Vegas.
We were having a real renaissance in Las Vegas with lots of buildings being restored until COVID hit. COVID knocked us back a bit, but now we are recovering again from those very strange couple of years in the hospitality business.
That is why film was such an important part of our business as well.
What is your favorite part of your job?
AA: I love restoring buildings. The Castaneda was essentially abandoned for 70 years. When I bought it widely understood that the building would soon fall. The Plaza Hotel was in bankruptcy. It is my passion to restore buildings, and, in a way, it restores these towns. Many of these historic hotels were the social centers of the community. You think about La Fonda is still a place where everyone meets, and business transactions take place.
When these locations are closed down it is a much greater loss than just the jobs that are there, although that is really important. We have created almost 100 jobs in New Mexico in the last few years. There is part of the soul in these communities that are lost when these social places are closed. Restoring that is the greatest part of my job.
You slightly touched on it, but how can you best explain the impact COVID had on the hospitality industry in your experience?
AA: I have done a lot of work with the tourism office as well as the NM Hotel Association Board and Museum Foundation Board, and the hospitality industry was affected the most only behind the medical industry. Not only did we have to shut down entirely for several months while paying our employees, but most hotels take deposits in advance. So not only did we have no income plus all the expenses, but we were losing nearly $10,000 a day in deposits.
It was enormous devastation. Thousands of hotels and restaurants shut down during COVID and simply never recovered. They were never able to reopen.
Fortunately, we were able to get through COVID, fires, and floods in the past year partly with the help of film contracts.
What part did the film industry play to help shift your business during COVID?
When COVID hit we worked closely with the tourism office, the film office, and the city's film liaison because the most important thing to many businesses in the community is filming. The likelihood is, we are not going to get manufacturing, so tourism plays a large role for rural New Mexico.
For example, Outer Range was in need of one of the hotels entirely for several months. Many businesses were shut down with no opportunity for income, which would have been us, instead we had a wonderful season.
The New Mexico Film tax credit has been enormously important in bringing a lot of jobs to small communities and we believe that as long as that program continues, we will continue to grow job opportunities, not just for hotels and restaurants, but they are hiring hundreds of people in small communities. And, it's an exciting job.
The net benefit to communities like Las Vegas is enormous.
How do you see the film industry growing in the future and its impact on small businesses going forward?
AA: We think this will continue to grow. It has paid enormous dividends to small communities and the large production studios in Albuquerque making multi-million-dollar investments. Also, the local college Highlands University, their signature program is Media Arts, and so the opportunity to train young people in the field is enormous. If the university can train students on post-production work, then post-production work can be done here as well, so we can capture an even larger share of the production budget.
It is not just people like me who own properties, but all the people who work in these properties, it's the school systems that are training people for 21st century jobs. This is a new market where there are great opportunities in small communities.