On February 27, 2017, the City of Albuquerque issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) entitled “City of Albuquerque Skyline Competition for The Tallest Building in New Mexico” for downtown Albuquerque, just nine (9) months before Mayor Berry was to leave office.See here – Albuquerque Skyline Competition RFP.
Then Mayor Richard Berry wanted developers to erect a commercial “iconic and skyline-defining” building of at least 360 feet high in downtown Albuquerque using city owned property that would be sold or leased to a developer who won.
City owned property where the skyscraper was to be built and located was 3rd street and Marquette or 2nd street and Silver.
In addition to the land, Berry wanted the city to offer lucrative tax breaks.
Berry’s’ former Chief of Staff Gilbert Montano at the time said of the development:
“The millions of dollars that this investment could create, spur and develop for our downtown and our city, the Class A office space, the multi-use live work play opportunities that these types of developments can provide also is a tangible benefit that we hope to see created.”
This is what you call a “field of dreams” development of “build it and they shall come.”
Albuquerque, because of its history, and population, is not high rise or skyscraper type of city and anyone who thinks so is sadly mistaken and does not know the city’s history.
COMMERCIAL OCCUPANCY RATES AND RESIDENTIAL RENTAL RATES
There are major problems with downtown occupancy rates with many commercial buildings and store fronts vacant.
Albuquerque has a chronic commercial vacancy rate city wide of 22.8% based on information from CBRE, the largest real estate investment manager in the United States.
The downtown commercial office space vacancy rate is 35% according to local commercial real estate experts.
Rental of “Class A” office space is highly expensive with very few businesses existing in Albuquerque that can afford it.
Private companies who can afford Class A office space usually buy and build to suite and avoid renting office space.
On October 12, 2017, it was reported that the average rental price in Albuquerque, which includes both market-rate and affordable units, increased 3.3 percent over the year, from $799 to $823 in September of this year, with all unit types showing gains. See here.
The market occupancy rate of 95.8 percent was up from 95.4 percent the prior year, which are good numbers.
The numbers come from CBRE Albuquerque’s latest apartment market survey.
CBRE looks at rents at 194 apartment complexes across the city, totaling more than 40,000 units.
The survey said the average market-rate apartment unit in Albuquerque was $843 in September, 2017.
The anticipated rental units in the new “skyscraper” were to be luxury units with starting rental costs starting at between $1,200 to $1,500 per month.
Luxury condos units of 850 to 1,100 square feet, such as those recently completed on Central in Nob Hill, have sale prices of between $275,000 upwards of $350,000 for the units, raising the prospects of limited affordability by many.
A SYMPHONY OF VERY SOUR NOTES
On September 27, 2017, the winner of the “skyscraper contest” was selected and the proposed building design winner was “The Symphony Tower” by Geltomore, LLC.
The “Symphony Tower” was to be constructed at 4th and Marquette, and it would include office space, a hotel and condos. (See photo of artist rendering below.)
The “Symphony Tower” would have stood 34 stories tall and the idea was for the city to demolish the current City Hall and police station to be rebuilt later.
The magnitude of the project left concerns about downtown parking availability in that the “Symphony Tower” was to be the tallest building in Downtown Albuquerque.
Plans for the Symphony Tower were nearly approved.
In November, 2017, the Albuquerque Development Commission delayed approval of the project until the new Mayor was elected and sworn in on December 1, 2017.
On March 16, 2018, Mayor Tim Keller announced that the city would be scrapping the entire project.See here.
In announcing his decision to scrap the project, Keller said “I don’t think it’s important to have a tallest building. I think we need to use a metric that matters. We want something that actually helps rejuvenate and re-energize downtown in all sorts of ways.”
What Mayor Keller wants to do is determine what kind of development would bring people to downtown on weeknights and weekends.
Keller also went on to say:
“I think it’s important just for the public to know that just because it’s called the ‘Symphony Tower,’ it has nothing to do with the symphony or a performing arts center. … Usually when the taxpayers put in a lot of money, they get a public amenity in return. Whether it’s a performing arts center or something like that… and that connection wasn’t in [the Symphony Tower] proposal.”
Mayor Keller also said that for all the tax breaks the developer wanted, the development didn’t make any sense for city taxpayers.
The Keller Administration intends to issue another Request For Proposal (RFP) that will include the lot at Silver and 2nd the city owns.
The Keller Administration needs to consider making sure the RFP calls for designs of buildings in downtown Albuquerque that reflect the character or true history of downtown, especially if built on historic Route 66 Central Avenue.
A suggestion is to have architects and developers look at Albuquerque’s past and historic buildings that have been torn down for inspiration.
The Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Lomas and built in 1998 is an excellent example of capturing New Mexico architecture. (See photo below)
REMEMBERING MISTAKES OF THE PAST
When I saw the news story that the plans for the 360 foot “skyscraper” the Symphony had been scrapped, I had a flashback to the Albuquerque I grew up in.
The architectural design of the Symphony building was not a reflection of Albuquerque in any way of what makes this city so unique.
I vividly recall the Franciscan Hotel that was at the corner of 6th and Central. (See photo below)
Across the street on the opposite corner from the hotel was H Cook Sporting store and I remember the rifle sign which was so very 40’s and 50’s.
I went to grade school at St. Mary’s a few blocks away and had a classmate whose father was the manager of the hotel and his family lived in a Hotel apartment.
The Franciscan Hotel was torn down in 1972, two years after I graduated from Del Norte High School, and there has been a parking lot there ever since where the hotel once stood.
Albuquerque has a very bad habit of destroying iconic structures, such as the Franciscan Hotel, the historic Alvarado Hotel and the Civic Auditorium, without making any effort to preserve them.
The ART Bus project with its futuristic canopy design bus platforms down the center of Central also fails to capture and reflect the historic significance of Route 66.
During a federal court hearing on March 15, 2018, regarding the APD consent decree, new Mayor Tim Keller appeared before Federal Judge Robert C. Brack who drove in early from Las Cruces with his law clerks.
The court hearing was held in the “ceremonial courtroom” of the old federal courthouse on Gold Street which was built in 1930 and restored years later in the 1980s and has been maintained because of its historical significance. (See photo below)
Both Federal Judge Brack and Mayor Keller opened their remarks by swooning and admiring the beauty and historical significance of the courtroom
From the bench, Judge Brake announced he brought his law clerks in early so they could take a tour of the old courthouse.
Albuquerque was indeed very lucky when the decision was made to keep and maintain the old federal courthouse on Gold Street instead of tearing it down when the new federal courthouse on Lomas was built.
Mayor Keller was born and raised in Albuquerque, but at age 40, is way to young to remember the Albuquerque I grew up in.
Notwithstanding his age, Mayor Keller’s comments about the old federal courthouse reflect he has real appreciation for Albuquerque’s history, far more than more than one of his predecessors could ever of had or even imagined when they were Mayor and who allowed such iconic buildings to be torn down.
Mayor Keller and the City did the absolute right thing to scrap the skyscraper.
When it comes to downtown Albuquerque, the lyrics of Joni Mitchell song need to be remembered:
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot SPOT
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot
Artist rendering of proposed “Symphony Skyscraper” at Third and Marquette
HOTEL FRANCISCAN TORN DOWN 1972
Photo of the old Federal Building and US Courthouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, built in 1930:
Photo of the Pete V. Domenici United States Courthouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico built in 1998: