RIO COMMUNITIES — As of March 1, a former Valencia County commissioner is the owner of the largest commercial space in the city of Rio Communities.

In a cash deal that closed last week, Ron Gentry bought the nearly 15,000-square foot Valley Improvement Association building on Rio Communities Boulevard, and he has big plans.

Standing in front of his newest acquisition, former Valencia County commissioner Ron Gentry is offering up the 15,000-square foot building he bought from Valley Improvement Association to any health care provider willing to come to the city of Rio Communities.
Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photo

“So, I’m just going to put it out there. Anyone who wants to put a health care facility here, I’ll donate the building — lock, stock and barrel,” Gentry said.

The two-story building sits between United Business Bank, formerly My Bank, and Rio Communities City Hall, and has been mostly empty for many years, with VIA’s offices occupying 3,500 square feet on the first floor.

The building has been for sale for seven years, said VIA president and CEO Paul Baca, with many lookers but no takers until now.

“People had shown an interest, looked at the building, but … at one point we offered it to the city (of Rio Communities) for the pay-off amount,” Baca said.

VIA spent $30,000 a year in debt service on the building, insurance and proper taxes, he said.

“Ron came in and made an offer; we negotiated a deal and sold the building,” Baca said. “Everything happens in time for a reason.”

Neither Gentry or Baca would disclose the purchase price, but the new owner said the insurance replacement value is $1.8 million.

Now that he owns the building free and clear, Gentry will begin making repairs, doing needed maintenance and updating the exterior. As that is happening, Gentry is letting it be known that any health care provider who wants to establish an east-side medical facility is welcome to the space.

“It could be Lovelace, Presbyterian, Davita, a group of doctors,” he said. “We have as much population as the southwest location by Presbyterian (in Belen).”

The only caveat with the offer is it stays a medical facility.

“I’m not requiring it to be a 24/7 emergency room or a hospital. It can be medical care, urgent care, or one of those little hospitals with four beds. Whatever they want it to be,” Gentry said.

At just shy of 15,000 square feet, Gentry said an interested provider could take part or all of the building, depending on what they wanted.

The second floor is nearly 5,000 and the first floor has two distinct, but connected areas, of 5,000 square feet. There is parking in the front and back of the building, east and west, Gentry said, with additional property owned by him to the west that he is willing to donate for additional parking if needed.

“I’m going to put it out there for a reasonable amount of time — a year — and see what happens,” he said. “If nothing comes of it, it will make a nice business complex.”

VIA’s offices will remain in the building, downsizing to 1,000 square feet in the southwest corner of the first floor. Selling the building and shedding that debt will allow VIA and Baca to focus on the association’s true purpose, he said.

“We can focus on what we do. We still have the responsibility of enforcing the covenants under the indentures even though the funding mechanism to do that is gone,” Baca said. “This is a good place to be for us. I hope Ron does well.”

AMR ambulance company also has space in the building and will remain there.

“I am more than happy to have them here,” Gentry said. “They will have a place here as long as they want.”

Gentry said when he began thinking about buying the building and trying to establish a health care facility there, he was going to do it himself.

“But then I thought, ‘I want to go fishing,’” he said with a laugh. “I’ll put it out there and see. If it happens, I get the satisfaction of finally getting decent health care on the east side.

“I spent a lot of my career trying to do that and never could get it across the line. I think that’s because of the greed in the valley. Everybody wanted to sell the land, sell the building.”

Whether a health care provider would be eligible for the $26 million in taxpayer money sitting in a bank account waiting for a hospital is something they would have to negotiate with the county commission, he said.

“The way that’s set up, the mill levy is to operate and maintain a hospital once (a provider) spends their own to open one,” Gentry said. “I have no doubt this will cut down on opening costs. Whether they want to be a ‘hospital’ is up to them.”

To finally get something, whether it’s a hospital or not, established and leave it for the community after he is gone is just something he wants to do, Gentry said.

“Why not? I don’t need to make money off of this. Yes, I own a lot of property in (the city of Rio Communities),” said Gentry, who lives south of the city in the unincorporated part of the county.

“I do because I always had a lot of hopes for Rio Communities but politics and greed stood in the way.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.