On Friday November 30, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller held a press conference in front of Lindy’s Diner on Central Avenue to announce new street striping and free holiday parking among improvements to Downtown Albuquerque for the Christmas holiday season.
Keller announced that city crews changed out stop lights to four-way stops on Silver Avenue SW and Fourth and Fifth and Roma, re-painted roadways and added 19 new parking spaces as part of the improvement effort officials hope will attract more people to the Downtown area during the Christmas season and help promote shopping locally.
In announcing the improvements during a news conference, Keller had this to say:
“It’s just reality that regions rise and fall with the success of the downtown of their largest city … That just happens to be right here – at Central Downtown in Albuquerque. What happens here does affect the rest of the state of New Mexico.”
A few months ago, Keller said “We rise and fall on Downtown” when he announced his plans to “revitalize” downtown.
On August 28, 2018, Keller announced three new initiatives to make Downtown Albuquerque as a safer, more attractive place for visitors and to increase tourism.
The three initiatives are:
1. 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.
ABQ GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST
From approximately 1952 to about 1965, Downtown Albuquerque on Central from Broadway to Rio Grande, including the Old Town, was considered the “hub of activity” for retail and business where you would shop, bank and go for entertainment and the area of major tourist activity.
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 1952 to 1965, downtown Central with all its retail commercial stores, was in its heyday, an exceptional and exciting time when it came to the holiday Christmas Season.
There were many retail stores existed on Central Street downtown and side streets and included Leeds Shoe Store, Mindlin’s Jewelry, Mandell Dreyfus, the Court Cafe and Bakery, Kistler Collister, Sears & Roebuck, the old Hilton, Liberty Cafe, St. John’s Cathedral, Gambel’s, The Men’s Hat Shop, Skip Maisel’s Indian Jewelry and Crafts Trading, Tandy’s Leather, JCPenney, Montgomery Ward’s, Fedway Department Store, Paris Shoe Store, Stromberg’s Clothing, American Furniture, People’s Flowers, Russell Stover’s candies, Mccullens, Tandy’s Leather, The Magic Shop, 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 Rey movie theaters, and First National Bank to mention a few.
The Alvarado Hotel was at 1st and Central and was known for the hundreds of “poinsettias” it displayed during Christmas.
The Alvarado was demolished in 1970.
The pueblo style 8 story Franciscan Hotel was at 5th and Central was known for its huge Christmas tree and decorations in the lobby area.
The Franciscan was demolished in 1972.
All the Central retail businesses would go all out to decorate their storefronts and the area with holiday lights and garnish.
The city would erect festive lighting fixtures across the streets along Central between Broadway going west to about 8th Street.
All the retail store front windows along central would be decorated with Christmas decorations.
Central downtown was a place to tour at night to see the holiday Christmas lights and even drive to the Old Town Area to Christmas shop.
Today, the City concentrates only on decorating civic plaza during the Christmas season.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Keller’s comments “We rise and fall on Downtown” and “It’s just reality that regions rise and fall with the success of the downtown of their largest city … That just happens to be right here – at Central Downtown in Albuquerque. What happens here does affect the rest of the state of New Mexico” are very difficult to take seriously.
It is the success of the entire City of Albuquerque economy that is the economic engine for the State of New Mexico that causes the state to rise and fall, and not Central downtown.
Mayor Keller does not realize his comments are the source snickering among many long-term residents especially those born and raised here who know the city’s history of “downtown revitalization.”
With so many vacant retail storefronts on downtown central, it is difficult to understand what impact, if any at all, 19 additional parking spaces will have on the area.
The problem is that Keller’s comments in no way reflect the reality of what has happened to Downtown Central area and what has been going on in the city for the last 60 years.
Since the late 1960’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” of the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s.
Sadly, “Downtown Albuquerque” is no longer what it use to be let alone an area that is reflective of the city nor an area that “affects the rest of the state of New Mexico” as Keller so boldly proclaims.
Events like the “Twinkle Light” parade at one time brought people and shoppers to Downtown Central until the event was moved to Nob Hill area a few years ago.
For many years now, the Central Downtown area has had very little when it comes to Christmas decorations that Downtown Central was known for and that actually encouraged people to go visit and shop.
“Downtown Albuquerque” has become the government and financial district for the city with the location of city hall, the City and 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.
At night, downtown central becomes a “dead zone” except for the numerous bars that seem to “eb and flow” over the years and that result in street altercations at closing time.
Adding 4 way stops, re-painting roadways and adding 19 new parking spaces on Central is frankly somewhat pathetic and will not make much of a difference to attract more shoppers to Central Downtown during the holiday season.
There are a number of downtown parking structures that the city owns and operates that are seldom full after 5:00 pm.
The parking structures include one on Copper Street West 4th Street, parking structures on second Street and Third Street with one directly North of the Kimo Theater, the downtown civic plaza underground parking lot and the city convention center surface parking lot at 1st and Central and North of the Alvarado Transportation center and the city parking lot structure on 1st Street immediately south-west of the Alvarado Transportation Center.
There are at least two private parking lots actually on Central, one on the south side of Central West of 1st street and one on the North side on Central at 5th Street where the Franciscan Hotel use to be many, many years ago before it was torn down.
If Mayor Tim Keller was really serious about helping downtown businesses during the Holiday shopping season with parking, the city should consider renting the private parking lots on Central from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm and offer the space free of charge to the public or perhaps charge $1.00 for the entire evening.
The center of Albuquerque that has become the new “downtown” is the uptown area of the city consisting of Coronado Shopping Center, the many shops at the Commons at Uptown, the new and ongoing Winrock development that will bring even more retail shops and even luxury housing when it’s done not to mention the commercial office space in the area.
Numerous restaurants have popped up in the area a with even more planned and on the way.
The entire city has in fact “outgrown” and left Downtown Central 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 Central dodged a fatal bullet when the decision was made not to run the ART Bus project through Downtown Central and bypass the area entirely.
Downtown Central Albuquerque and Route 66 should be considered the “soul of the city” because of the history it represents.
Some progress is being made with downtown revitalization.
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.
An arts or entertainment district development will expand further the new entertainment complex on 1st and Central.
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 building of an entertainment venue for 5,000 to 6,000 people such as the old civic auditorium with another dome type facility should be explored for Downtown.
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.
For more about what is happening at the BioPark see:
Old Town should 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 needs to realize that Albuquerque will not “rise and fall on downtown” as he claims, especially if he fails like all other Mayor’s and City Councils before him have failed with downtown central revitalization.
For the vast majority of Albuquerque residents, what happens on Downtown Central stays on Downtown Central and has absolutely no effect on their lives and they have absolutely no desire to ever go downtown.
For an abbreviated history of Central Downtown and downtown revitalization see: