As famed baseball player Yogi Berra one said it’s “Déjà vu all over again!”
Since the 1970’s, Albuquerque City Hall and virtually every Mayor of Albuquerque have been fixated and frustrated by the revitalization of “Downtown Albuquerque” hoping to return downtown to its old “glory days”.
Mayor Tim Keller took his plans of Downtown revitalization to the annual meeting of “Visit Albuquerque”.
“Visit Albuquerque” is a tourist and business professional organization that markets the city as a visitor, convention and sports destination city.
Mayor Keller called himself the “promoter in chief” when it comes to promoting Albuquerque as a good place to live, work, play and invest.
When Mayor Keller called himself the “promoter in chief” for Albuquerque, he was using the same words used by former Mayors Harry Kinney, Ken Schultz, Martin Chavez and Richard Berry.
Saying “We rise and fall on Downtown” Keller announced three new initiatives to make Downtown Albuquerque as a safer, more attractive place for visitors and increase tourism.
The three initiatives are:
1. Opening a police substation at the Alvarado Transportation Center to address the serious crime and homeless problems in the Central Avenue downtown area that have reached a crisis point. Keller announced that the substation will be staffed by an APD Assistant Chief, police officers and a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) who are trained in dealing with behavioral and mental health issues.
2. In order to create a tourist, draw the city will begin remediation efforts and activate a second building at the Albuquerque Rail Yards after the city severs the existing contract with California-based Samitaur Constructs, the master developer for the site. In 2007, the city bought the site for about $8.5 million. The historic and vacant Albuquerque Rail Yards are within one mile of the Downtown area located south of Downtown between the Barelas and South Broadway neighborhoods. Albuquerque Rail Yards has 18 buildings still standing erected between 1915 and 1925 and include four major maintenance facilities built by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.
3. Keller announced he wants to ramp up plans to reinvent the historic Albuquerque Rail Yards by finding a development partner to transform a city-owned parking lot into “an amenity where thousands can gather year-round.” The city has upgraded one building, the blacksmith shop, where the Rail Yards Market Place has taken place on weekends each summer since 2014. Activating a second building will accommodate additional vendors and potentially be a big tourist draw according to Mayor Keller.
Mayor Tim Keller’s claim “We rise and fall on downtown” makes a great headline but the problem is it no way reflects what has been going on in the city for the last 60 years.
The truth is “Downtown Albuquerque” has been transforming during Mayor Tim Keller’s entire life of 40 years plus another 20 years before he was born.
ABBREVIATED HISTORY OF DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION
A very abbreviated history of “downtown revitalization” efforts is in order.
Central Avenue going West from Broadway Ave to the Rio Grande River is traditionally thought of as “Downtown” by many born and raised in Albuquerque or long-term residents.
Downtown Albuquerque should probably also be considered to include a mile north and a mile south of Central between Broadway and the Rio Grande river so as to include Old Town, the Albuquerque Museum, the Children’s Science Museum, the New Mexico History Museum, the Zoo, the BioPak, which includes the botanical gardens and aquarium, and various government buildings including courthouses and commercial office buildings.
From approximately 1952 to about 1965, Downtown Albuquerque on Central from Broadway to 1st street was considered the “hub of activity” for retail and business where you would shop, bank and go for entertainment.
In the 1960s and the mid-1970s, “urban renewal” was the big buzzwords at City Hall and the then existing City Commission.
Urban Renewal was federal funding “given to cities for the large-scale improvement of urban areas riddled with “blight,” a catchall term used to describe almost anything city planners may have found problematic or offensive with the city structure.
“Blight was used to describe otherwise healthy urban neighborhoods inhabited by a single ethnic group; historic and dilapidated buildings whose owners were either uninterested in renovation or unable to secure funding to do so; heavy, poor, or inefficient traffic flow through central business districts; and nearly any other sociological or psychological issue that was affecting the urban area.”
The term “blight” provided ready justification for city planners and developer aspirations.
Today it is called “gentrification”.
The 1960’s-1970’s urban renewal in Albuquerque resulted in city government use of “eminent domain” condemnations and the leveling of entire neighborhood blocks and areas of downtown, including old government buildings.
The “Downtown Albuquerque” I remember, growing up as a kid, attending St. Mary’s Catholic School and my father’s barber shop “Paul’s Barber Shop” on Lomas and 3rd Street is:
The many retail stores on Central Street downtown or the Central Street area before urban renewal including Sears, JC Penny, Montgomery Ward’s, Fedway Department Store, Paris Shoe Store, Stromberg’s clothing, American Furniture, People’s Flowers, Russell Stover’s candies, Mc Clullens, Kurt’s Camera Coral, Krees’s , Levines, Woolworth’s, Payless Drugs, Zales Jewelry, Skaggs, Fogg’s Fine Jewelry, PNM (across from the KIMO) the Sunshine, KIMO, State and the El Ray movie theaters, just to mention a few.
Around 1965, from San Pedro going east and north east was basically vacant land that was developed over the subsequent years with many homes built by Mossman Gladden Homes and Dale Bellamah Homes.
The original Albuquerque Convention Center was built in the late 1960’s as was the old 5 story Frank Horan City Hall building and the 4 story downtown main police station were built and still stand on property that was condemned in the name of “urban renewal”.
To the north of the original convention center was built the “Hilton Double Tree” hotel, 201 Marquette, NW, built in 1975, to serve the convention center and the “semi-circular” architecture portion of the hotel was supposedly inspired by “hot air” balloons and originally painted in various colors.
During urban renewal, many residential areas downtown were demolished and replaced by office buildings and it had an impact on retail businesses along Central Downtown.
The 14-floor building known today as the New Mexico Bank and Trust Building, 3701 4Th Street, NW was opened in 1960.
The 13 story Dennis Chavez federal office building at 500 Gold, SW opened in 1965.
Both the 18 floor Compass bank building, 505 Marquette, NW and 12 story PNM office building, 414 Silver, SW, were built in the mid 1960’s and both opened in 1966.
The 6 story First Plaza building, 200 3rd St, NW, was completed in 1972 and was the corporate headquarters of First National Bank owned by the Maloof Family.
The 16 story Wells Fargo Building at 200 Lomas, NW opened in 1973.
The 10-story Bank of the West and Davita Medical building complex at 303 Roma, NW with parking structure across from the Wells Fargo Bank on Lomas also opened in 1973.
The 8 floor, city owned, Plaza Del Sol, 600 2nd, was opened in 1975 and was originally a bank building.
The 8 floor AT&T building at 111 3rd NW, was built in 1978.
The 8th floor “Plaza Campana” 400 Tijeras the houses Molina Health care was built in 1981 and has gone under significant renovations over the years.
Locally owned banks such as First National Bank, owned by the George G. Maloof family and Albuquerque National Bank started to establish branch banking before the banks were bought by bigger national banks.
It was not until the early 1980’s that the City-County Government Center, 11 story building located at 1 Civic Plaza west of the plaza and located between the Frank Horan City Hall building and the old District Courthouse was erected.
Urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970’s gutted or demolished many historic and government buildings in downtown Albuquerque.
The Alvarado hotel at 1st and Central was demolished in 1970.
The Franciscan Hotel at 5th and Central was demolished in 1972.
Parking lots replaced both the Alvarado and the Franciscan Hotels.
The demolition of the Franciscan Hotel and the Alvarado Hotel and restaurant contributed significantly to the demise of the downtown area.
The distinctly dome designed Albuquerque Civic Auditorium east of the old St. Joseph’s Hospital opened in 1957 and was demolished in 1987 and a city own entertainment venue never replaced it.
At one time, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce offices were located at the Albuquerque Civic Auditorium when the dynamic and visionary GY Fails was the executive director for many years.
Two businesses that have survived for decades on Central downtown have been the “The Men’s Hat Shop” and “Skip Mazel’s Indian Jewelry and Crafts Trading”.
It was with the building of the major retail shopping malls in the 1960s and when the city growth and population began spreading to the East and North East when the downtown area very slowly began to wither and die.
Winrock mall was opened March, 1961, Coronado Shopping Center was opened March, 1965 and both were “open malls” and two of the very first malls ever opened in the county.
Both Winrock and Coronado have expanded and transformed various times from open malls to closed indoor malls
Winrock basically closed down for years with only the Dillard’s Men’s and Women’s locations and is now going through yet another transformation.
The “Uptown” Commons stores complex was opened in 2006 and built on the original site of St. Pius High School.
After urban renewal of the 1960s and 1970s, Albuquerque’s population growth continued to the North East Heights with Coronado Shopping Center and Winrock eventually replacing the Downton retail shopping area of the city with many of the national downtown retail stores relocating to the malls such as Sears, JC Penny’s and Wards’.
In the early to mid-1980’s, the City Council attempted to revitalize Downtown as a place to go with the multimillion dollar “Festival Market Place”.
The Festival Market place was intended to be a large entertainment venue where civic plaza now sits and nearby areas.
“Concerned Citizens” of Albuquerque mounted a voter initiative to put it on the ballot that killed the festival market place.
After the demise of the Festival Market Place at the polls, the City Council exerted itself even further with Downtown revitalization by pushing the expansion of the Albuquerque Convention Center with the major addition of an east wing and a parking structure.
The 21 story Hyatte Regency and 22 story Albuquerque Plaza complex, which opened in 1990, were built in part with city bonding to coincide with the convention center expansion.
From 1985 to 1989, the Albuquerque City Council continued with efforts to try to revitalize in part Downtown Albuquerque.
In 1987, the City Council enacted the 10-year quarter cent “Quality of Life” tax which included funding for a Performing Arts Center, the Children’s Science Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Albuquerque Aquarium and the Balloon Museum and the acquisition of critical open space in the Sandia foothills.
The Children’s Science Museum, the Botanical Gardens, the Albuquerque Aquarium and the Balloon Museum were all constructed.
The performing arts center was originally proposed to be built at a cost of $60 million and was to be built on the city vacant land located directly north of Civic Plaza in an effort to revitalize downtown.
Another voter petition drive initiative was undertaken that forced a vote on the proposed performing arts center and voters said no to the project.
From 1990 to 1994, downtown revitalization took the form of trying to build a new baseball stadium in the area of Broadway and Lomas to again revitalize the area and bring people to downtown.
Relocating the baseball stadium failed and the old baseball park for the “Dukes” baseball team was leveled and rebuilt calling it a “remodeling” and the stadium was renamed “Isotopes Park” after the city was able to lure another professional baseball team.
The BioPark, with the Rio Grande Zoo, aquarium and botanical gardens, is the number one tourist attraction in the State of New Mexico.
During the 2015 municipal election, Albuquerque voters wisely approved with an overwhelming majority the voter petition drive initiative to increase the gross receipts tax for the BioPark.
The tax will raise $255 million dollars over 15 years for the BioPark.
There are $40 million dollars in upgrades and exhibits needed to the BioPark facilities and without making those repairs, the city risks losing many national certifications.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
“Downtown Albuquerque” has become the government and financial district for the city with the location of city hall, the City/County Government Center, the Metro Court, State District Court, the Federal Courts, the Social Security Administration, the main bank branches of Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Bank of the West Compass Bank and other banks and government agencies.
The center of Albuquerque and the new “downtown” is the uptown area of the city consisting of Coronado Shopping Center, the many shops at the Commons at Uptown, the Winrock development that will include even more retail shops and even luxury housing when it’s done not to mention all the restaurants that have popped up in the area with even more planned not to mention the commercial office space in the area.
Mayor Keller’s emphasis on Downtown revitalization and tourism should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone.
Frankly it is doubtful much will be accomplished and it is misguided on many levels.
Mayor Tim Keller is not proposing anything dramatic nor visionary to revitalize Downtown Albuquerque which is very disappointing given the platform of change and economic development he ran on.
Increasing law enforcement presence that is sorely needed and again trying to restore the historic Albuquerque Rail Yards is commendable, but is not a game changer and far more can and must be done.
The entire city has in fact “outgrown” and left downtown in many respects.
Make no mistake, the “Downtown Central” area must and can be revitalized because of its historical significance and being a part of historic Route 66.
Downtown Albuquerque is the sole of the city because of the history it represents.
There has been a very large number of multi-story apartments and condos developed directly south of Central between 1st Street and 6th Street within the past 10 years along with the Silver Street “grocery store” in one of the developments.
The residential developments are Downtown’s biggest hope yet for Downtown revitalization because it will sustain vibrant downtown activity, where people can live, raise a family and work and play which is the “walkable city” concept.
The Albuquerque High School condos and the Lobo Rainforest Building and Innovate Albuquerque development across the street at Broadway and Central will no doubt help with Downtown revitalization.
The “One Central” development located at 1st Street and Central, which is now opened, is a public-private mixed-use development, including at least 39,000 square feet of commercial space with an entertainment tenant initially described as an upscale bowling alley with at least two other retail or restaurant tenants, 60 residential units and a 429-space parking garage.
Downtown Central dodged a fatal bullet when the decision was made not to run the ART Bus project and by pass the area entirely.
When the Albuquerque Civic Auditorium was demolished, the City did not replace it with any entertainment venue its size
With the demolition of the Civic Auditorium, Albuquerque began to rely heavily on “Pope Joy Hall” and “The Pit” as entertainment venues and later the Hispanic Cultural Center with its state-of-the-art venue.
The City should explore reinventing and changing the branding of the Downtown Albuquerque Central with an emphasis on historical Route 66.
An arts or entertainment district development that will expand further the new entertainment complex on 1st and Central should be explored.
The building of an entertainment venue for 5,000 to 6,000 people such as the civic auditorium with another dome type facility can be explored.
Rather trying to attempt to again remodel the convention center for an arena with bleachers that has been proposed, City Hall should place on the ballot a voter initiative to build a downtown, multipurpose entertainment and sports arena.
The number one tourist attraction in the State of New Mexico is the Bio-Park.
The City needs to expedite expansion and repairs to the of the Bio-Park wherever it can with the upgrades and repairs to the facilities.
Old Town will always be a critical component of Downtown Revitalization and projects to enhance Old Town, including expansion of the Albuquerque Museum and Children’s museums should be developed.
One project for the City to consider is acquire the “Romero Residence” on Old Town Plaza, convert it to a “Mayor’s Residence” to be used not for living but for City and ceremonial events.
Mayor Keller has time to make a difference in downtown revitalization if he really wants to but our city will not “rise and fall on downtown” as he claims especially if he fails as all other Mayor’s and City Councils before him have failed with downtown revitalization.
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