They knew what they were doing when they named this huge residential, business and school site in Unit 10 “Los Diamantes,” because that’s Spanish for diamonds and this is development could be a crown jewel for Rio Rancho.
It’s been an enormous task to take this 170-acre site, termed “Unit 10” since Rio Rancho Estates was formulated, and have it start to come alive with an elementary school, almost 500 homes and a 38-acre business park.
Mike Skolnick has worn many hats in his life, but his best skill is assembling land. With myriad owners of parcels in Rio Rancho scattered throughout the globe, he’s the one who negotiates the sales of land to make subdivisions possible.
Skolnick, whose parents bought land here sight unseen in 1968, became a land assembler after the “Great Recession” of 2008.
“I helped assemble with Curb Inc. — the people who developed Cabezon,” he began.
Skolnick has assembled several subdivisions in the City of Vision.
“I finished assembling Los Diamantes with 69 (property) owners,” Skolnick recalled. “We hired Mark Goodwin & Associates to be our engineer, to design Los Diamantes. We hired Jim Strozier of Consensus Planning to be our planner.”
With approval from the City of Rio Rancho’s Planning and Zoning Board, the project went before the governing body.
“We go in front of council in August 2015. We had prepared a 96-page presentation book that was gorgeous,” Skolnick said. “… We had our whole team there. Engineer, me, owner, planning — Strozier’s team was there — all ready to address whatever the council’s going to say to us.”
The quarter-of-a-billion-dollar project received unanimous approval without any questions.
“It was unbelievable. Sixty seconds. The largest project Rio Rancho has approved,” Skolnick said. “Nothing like this has ever been proposed — with a business park and housing, and we ended up getting a school (Joe Harris Elementary) here. … And then this was the first public-private partnership the city ever set up, bringing all this infrastructure in. It was just phenomenal how this worked.”
Mayor Gregg Hull said, “The public-private partnership of everybody coming together to make that work was an amazing accomplishment… not only for the city, but school district, SSCAFCA and property owners on that side of Westside Boulevard.”
John Lewis of California then bought Los Diamantes from Chuck Hagelin.
“John says to me, ‘Mike, I’m not a developer. You’re going to go find someone to do this project. It’s an approved project, ready to go, but I’m not going to put up the millions of dollars. I don’t know what I’m doing — I’m not a developer; I can’t do that,’” Skolnick continued.
Enter Pierre Amestoy
“I started meeting with all the big players,” Skolnick went on. “I didn’t know Pierre then. They’re all studying the numbers: I had all the cost breakdowns; I had all that stuff. And the answer was always the same: Mike, this is too much money to be laid out up front. I gotta buy the land, bring in all the infrastructure … do all this work. Then I gotta start developing the lots. By the time I start seeing any returns, it’s gonna be three years.’”
Skolnick was getting frustrated with the refusals, and then met developer Pierre Amestoy.
“He had just contracted on Tierra del Oro, which is in Unit 13, right above Idalia and Broadmoor,” Skolnick recalled. “There were 10 holes over there, because I had assembled it; Pierre contracted to buy it, subject to the 10 (lots) being filled. … He calls me up; we meet.
Amestoy told him to try to buy those lots, and he succeeded.
“We closed Tierra del Oro in October 2017,” Skolnick said. “… I was with Pierre at the title company. We walked out and he turned to me and said, ‘What’s next?’ I said, ‘Well, you know about Los Diamantes.’”
Skolnick drove Amestoy to the 10th and Westside intersection. Amestoy said, “Let’s start negotiating.”
“We start negotiating with Mr. Lewis, come to an agreement. … We contract on it, we close it and Pierre starts the dirt work on it.”
The dirt work began on Westside Boulevard in 2020, and homes started going up in 2021. Amestoy paid $6.5 million to have Westside paved from Unser Boulevard west to just beyond 10th Street. Not too long from now, it’ll extend west to Rainbow Boulevard.
Skolnick managed to get 22 property owners to sell or donate 28 feet of their property so Westside could be four lanes wide, and it was re-zoned and stubbed to attract commercial development.
“(Property owners) saw the value in what we were doing and really stepped up,” Skolnick said. “Some donated right-of-way because they saw the value of the road.”
Hull’s a big fan of the project and its progress to date.
“I’m very excited about the success of Los Diamantes and what it means for the community as we grow,” he said. “You used to have to have a four-wheel drive (vehicle) to get out there; it was hardly navigable. Now, it’s a modern amenity with curbing and sidewalks.”
Hull expects the area to be booming in 18-24 months, with around 220 homes planned for Phase I, and another 250 for Phase 2. He hopes the business park gets tenants soon.
Skolnick said it’s for clean industry — no manufacturing — and prices starts at $6 a square foot, for lots as small as one acre. That includes having infrastructure delivered to the site.
“We wanted to create a ‘work where we play’ (concept),” Hull added. “… With the public amenities, a world-class hospital (Presbyterian Rust Medical Center is due east) and restaurants make it a first-class development.”